Ward 1 voters will head back to the polls May 16 to decide the Republican primary between challenger Jason Camp and incumbent Alderman Ben Carver after party officials rejected a previously accepted affidavit ballot Monday.
Upon consulting with the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office, the GOP Municipal Committee decided one of two contested affidavits cast in last week’s election should not count, as the voter missed the 30-day window to register his address after moving from outlying Oktibbeha County to Starkville.
Another affidavit, which went unsigned and undated by a poll worker, was again deemed eligible by the group and deadlocked the two opponents at 104 votes each.
The city is expected to certify the results of the primary today. Voters who participated in last week’s Republican primary and those who did not vote can participate in the Ward 1 runoff. Those who voted in the Democratic primary are not eligible to vote in the election.
Camp said he was satisfied with Monday’s result, especially after he felt his requests for the party to take its time and research election laws were ignored last week. Monday’s meeting came after Camp’s attorney, Charles Yoste, requested a meeting to reconsider the ballots, but committee chair Jack Forbus said the body was planning on meeting anyway after he was made aware of a new opinion from state-level election experts.
“I’m disappointed it ever came to this in the first place, and I don’t think it’s the fault of either candidate. The thing I asked for Wednesday and Thursday night was to slow down, look at the resources available to us and find out what’s the law. I think we may have finally done that,” he said following Monday’s meeting. “I hope the secretary of state’s office, attorney general and our legislature are paying attention to what’s going on … to try and clear up this so this doesn’t happen again, because this is not good for anyone. This creates mass confusion. As candidates, it’s hard enough to get people to the polls.
“My biggest thing right now is trying to help voters understand what’s happening,” he added. “I’ve had people telling me they’ll pick up my campaign sings and bring them to me, and I’ve had people tell me, ‘Congratulations. I can’t wait to vote for you in June.'”
With one week left to campaign for the right to represent the party in June’s general election, both candidates said they’ll again hit the trail to speak with voters and remind them of the need to return to the polls.
“I’ve gotten a positive response out of this. We’ve proven the will of the voters wanting their votes to count,” Carver said. “It’s amazing what this process will do from a fundraising standpoint. The signs started popping up from individuals who were waiting to see (who was) the winner of this. They’re excited to get the Ben Carver signs out in their yards.”
The winner of next week’s Camp-Carver primary will face Democrat Christine Williams on June 6.
Both candidates took a 101-vote tie into Tuesday night before absentee and affidavits were processed. The absentee count gave Camp a one-vote lead before three of the wards affidavits were rejected based on technical issues.
On Thursday, the GOP voted to accept both affidavits, which gave Carver a one-vote lead.
The two affidavits in question came from residents who previously moved, but whose names were not listed in the Ward 1 poll book.
The first affidavit, provided by a female Ward 1 resident, claims she recently moved within the ward, from the Avenue of Patriots to Spruce Lane. The second, provided by a male resident, was marked indicating his move from the outside of Starkville’s municipal boundaries to his Persimmon Drive home was completed more than 30 days ago.
Conflicting AG’s opinions on the validity of ballots cast by those who moved from the county to the city but failed to register within 30 days of an election were presented during both GOP meetings. A 2001 opinion would have allowed the vote to be rejected, while a 2003 opinion states such a voter would be entitled to participate in the election via an affidavit.
Concerns were also raised over the woman’s affidavit. Yoste said state law requires affidavit voters to sign their names on an affidavit register, but the woman failed to do so. Her signature, Yoste said, was then printed in the register by Starkville Election Commissioner Jim McKell.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch