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City of Canton asks Madison County to take over 2021 municipal elections

Madison County Board of Supervisors
Madison County Board of Supervisors(WLBT)
Updated: Feb. 23, 2021 at 4:31 PM CST
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CANTON, Miss. (WLBT) - With less than two months to go before the party primaries, exactly who will be overseeing Canton’s municipal elections remains to be seen.

The city of Canton recently voted to abolish its election commission and petition Madison County to oversee the 2021 municipal races.

The board of supervisors, though, has yet to decide whether they will do so, and will not make a determination on the request until next week.

“I don’t want us to get involved in something we can’t get out of,” said District 3 Supervisor Gerald Steen.

The board discussed the request at its Monday meeting.

Members were concerned about the cost of taking over the elections and whether the city would reimburse the county for the expense.

In documents provided to the county, Canton officials estimated that the general election would cost $10,000 and that any runoffs would cost an additional $5,000.

However, supervisors questioned those numbers and wanted more information.

“Who came up with $10,000, when it might cost us $8,000, it may cost us $38,000 … That’s an issue as well we need to get resolved,” Steen said.

Board Attorney Mike Espy said that according to a state attorney general’s opinion, the city sets the fee, but the county has to agree to it.

“I know that Canton put a figure in, a dollar figure, but I think they were just filling space,” District 4 Supervisor Karl Banks said. “If the county has to conduct (the election), I’m sure they will reimburse the county for the entire cost.”

Supervisors also asked whether the request was for the 2021 elections or all future elections and whether the county actually had to take over elections under state statute.

Espy said the city is able to petition the county to take over elections under Mississippi Code Section 23-15-221.

“The statute says if there is no other option, the city can petition the county …. to conduct the elections,” he told the board. “That’s everything – polling locations, ballots, hiring poll workers, the whole shebang.”

The Canton board voted to abolish the election commission recently, citing complications following the 2017 elections, Espy said.

A resolution and ordinance approving the decision were forwarded to Espy recently.

“Inside of the resolution and the ordinance, they set forth the reason by statute: generally, it was more efficient for them to cancel the municipal elections commission. More specifically, in the resolution, they gave as a reason the difficulties they had in the last election, in 2017.

“(They want) to go through the process without a criminal procedure. Some were indicted.”

In 2018, the Madison County district attorney handed down six indictments related to the previous year’s elections.

In all, six people were charged with voter fraud, including a city employee and Canton school board member, a former Canton police chief and member of the board of aldermen, and the director of human and cultural services for the city. A deputy city clerk was also arrested on two counts.

The resolution and the ordinance were passed unanimously but had not been signed by Canton Mayor William Truly.

Espy did not know why the mayor had not signed off on the documents.

“Obviously, there is an issue why the mayor didn’t sign it,” he said.

Truly and members of the Canton board could not be reached for comment.

Supervisors held off on making a decision on the request and directed attorney Espy to meet with the Canton city attorney to investigate the matter further.

County election commissions are expected to meet Friday.

Party primaries are slated for April 6. The general election is June 8, according to the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office.

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