June 13, 2017 10:28:26 AM
Caledonia voters will return to the polls on July 18 to select the town's mayor and aldermen.
By a 2-0 vote, the town's election commission chose that date Monday evening while also rejecting a suggestion to switch from paper ballots to voting machines.
The election commission, down to three active members after commission chairman Ken Byars resigned on June 9, met for a half-hour with town attorney Chris Hemphill before announcing plans for the new election.
Donna Egger and Martha Hopkins voted for the date and against using voting machines while Mildred Wiggins, the aunt of mayoral candidate Mitch Wiggins, recused herself. A fourth member, Betty Kirkland, did not participate in the June 6 election and will not be available for the July 18 vote.
Hemphill said state law requires at least three election commissioners to conduct the election. Though Mildred Wiggins recused herself from Monday's vote, she will serve on the commission through the second election.
The new election was set after the commission unanimously voted to toss out the results of the June 6 election, which the commission said was tainted when Byars took the unsealed ballot box to his home on the night of the June 6 election with the outcome of the mayor's race still undetermined. Hemphill said Byars' actions violated Mississippi code 23-15-591.
Although the outcome of the aldermen's race -- nine candidates vying for five at-large board positions -- had been determined, the mayor's race faced a fourth count (and third recount) when the commission halted the process on June 8 and announced it would meet Monday to set the date for the new election.
None of the three counts for the mayor's race rendered the same result.
Monday, two dates were proposed for a new election -- July 18 and July 25.
Incumbent mayor Bill Lawrence, who is facing a challenge for the office from former alderman Wiggins, preferred the later date, but alderman Quinn Parham, who is seeking his second term on the board, said the July 25 date conflicted with the week-long Mississippi Municipal League meetings in Biloxi.
"We're going to have a lot of new aldermen and I really think getting the training they offer at those meeting is important," Parham said. "It would be a great way for them to get started, having that training."
"I think the most important thing is getting it right this time and making sure we don't rush it," he said. "The training Quinn is talking about is available at other times during the year, so I don't think that's really much of an issue. Let's give ourselves the time we need to do it right. That's more important."
The commission also rejected suggestions from both mayoral candidates to rent voting machines to be used in the new election.
Lawrence provided a quote from Jackson-based Elections Systems and Software, which would have provided rental for three voting machines as well as programming and ballot scanning. The proposal, which did not include training costs, was for $3,620.
Wiggins said he has spoken with another company that could provide voting machines at a lower cost, but he did not have a quote for the commission to consider.
The town's budget for the election was $2,500, and according to town clerk Lindy Thomason, it spent $1,671 on the June 6 election.
"We decided not to use the machines because we were concerned about the cost," said Egger, who also said implementing the machines for the first time in the condensed time-frame of the new election was also a concern.
The new date for the election means the current mayor and board of aldermen will continue to serve and will meet at for its regular monthly meeting on July 5.
"We talked to the attorney general's office about that," Hemphill said. "By state statute, the current mayor and board will continue until a duly-elected mayor and board are selected."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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