Secretary of State questions legitimacy of Canton’s Democratic executive committee

Secretary of State questions legitimacy of Canton’s Democratic executive committee
Canton, Mississippi (Source: WLBT)

CANTON, Miss. (WLBT) - The whole question of who serves on Canton’s Democratic Executive Committee is again at the forefront.

This time, that question is being raised by Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson.

In an April 16 letter to committee member Natwassie Truly, Watson said the individuals who signed off on the recapitulation report from the city’s Democratic primaries were not duly elected members of that committee.

Watson goes on to say that his office could not accept the report showing the results of the Democratic primary until a majority of commission members sign off on them.

Michael Watson
Michael Watson

“It appears that at least two of the persons who signed the recapitulation report were not properly appointed members of the … committee and not the proper election officials to transmit the tabulated statement of votes cast,” he writes.

“As a majority of members must sign and date the tabulated statement of votes cast, and, at most, two persons from the Canton Democratic Executive Committee have signed and dated the transmitted tabulation … the transmitted tabulation … does not meet the requirements set forth under Miss. Code...”

The letter adds to the confusion that has already surrounded the 2021 Canton elections, which have been fraught with lawsuits, innuendo, and requests from the city for the county to take the elections over.

Canton Mayor William Truly, Natwassie Truly’s husband, said the letter is old news, and that the results have been certified by Watson’s office.

“The city of Canton held its primary election April 6th and the people made a choice that represented change and decided who they wanted to be their leaders for the next four years,” he said in an email. “There have been a lot of rumors and innuendos and false inferences about this election moving forward. The primary election has occurred and has been certified.”

Certification aside, Watson’s letter, along with Truly’s comments, represent yet another round of controversy surrounding Canton’s municipal elections.

Also in February, William Truly, Natwassie Truly, and other candidates raised concerns about the legitimacy of the Canton Democratic Executive Committee after they were disqualified from running for office.

(Truly and the other candidates sued and a judge ordered their names to be added back to the ballot.)

At the heart of the matter was which executive committee was legitimate and which ballot was legitimate.

Numerous lists of qualifying candidates, signed by numerous Democratic committee officials were submitted to the Madison County Circuit Clerk for printing ballots.

On Feb. 11, a letter signed by John Scanlan, who called himself the chair of the “Legitimate Canton Municipal Democratic Election Commission” submitted a list to the clerk.

That list disqualified several candidates, including Mayor Truly, Commissioner Truly, Alderman Fred Esco, Alderman Rodriquez Brown, and board of aldermen candidate Monica Gilkey.

The Trulys, Esco, and Brown were removed based on residency requirements. Gilkey was taken off for failing to appear/attest before the city clerk, according to a copy of the letter sent to Circuit Clerk Anita Wray.

A second qualifying list was submitted on Feb. 18 signed by Natwassie Truly and Marion Freeman. That list, which was not signed by Scanlan, informed the clerk that all candidates had qualified to run.

Other lists of qualifying candidates also were submitted, one of which disqualified Ward One candidate Colby Walker and a second one qualifying all candidates.

In their suits, Esco and Brown argued that their civil rights had been violated because they were not given a hearing to address residency concerns.

Special Judge Lamar Pickard agreed and ruled that all disqualified candidates could be added back to the ballot.

The controversy surrounding Canton’s elections didn’t stop there.

When absentee voting finally began in late March, a spat broke out between Republican mayoral candidate Chip Matthews and City Clerk Debra Brown.

Matthews claimed that he was turned away from voting in the Democratic primary, while Brown claimed he spouted racial epithets and made her feel unsafe.

Watson’s letter, meanwhile, raises a question that has been asked since before the Feb. 5 qualifying deadline. Who are the legitimate members of the Democratic executive committee?

According to Secretary of State records, members include John Scanlan, Marion Freeman, Kathryn Irving, Nancy Wesley James, and Natwassie Truly, all of whom were elected to the positions in 2017.

However, those that signed off on the Democratic results included only one of those individuals: Truly. The three other signees were Shoney Harris, Don Cole, and L.C. Slaughter, according to the secretary of state.

“Based upon information submitted to us, of the persons who signed the recapitulation report, only Natwassie Truly was elected to serve as a municipal executive committee member or was appointed to a vacancy by the municipal executive committee,” he wrote.

Watson questioned why Cole and Slaughter signed the report, saying they were not duly elected committee members.

Cole and Slaughter were not elected in 2017 but were appointed to the committee in 2021.

According to a Feb. 5 letter delivered to then-City Clerk Allison Majors, Natwassie Truly said that a new Democratic committee had been formed, with the six new members including Slaughter, Cole, Stephen Blackmon, Elaine Blaire, Stephen Blackmon, Robert Estes, and Shoney Harris.

The letter also stated that Truly had been named committee chair. Scanlan, who claimed to be the legitimate committee’s chair, also retained membership.

Three other members elected commissioners in 2017, though, were no longer listed as members.

Even so, the signature of one of those members, Marion Freeman, is shown on the Feb. 18 list of qualifying candidates submitted to the circuit clerk.

That list had also been signed by Truly, who submitted a letter to the clerk saying Freeman was no longer a member of the commission.

A screenshot of that letter, as well as a copy of the Feb. 18 municipal qualifying list is shown below.

Letter lists the new members of the Canton Democratic Executive Committee.
Letter lists the new members of the Canton Democratic Executive Committee. (Source: WLBT)

Watson also raises concerns about how Cole and Slaughter were appointed.

He said state statute allows for two ways:

  • When vacancies occur, existing committee members can fill positions until the next election;
  • And, when no committee is in place, the county party chairman can call a meeting of qualified electors to appoint one.

Watson claims that despite original commission members being in place, the two were not appointed by the commission, but were appointed along with Estes and Blackmon during a mass meeting.

A letter from Feb. 1 from Truly, then identifying herself as a member of the Democratic executive committee, lends credence to Watson’s concerns. It is shown below.

Watson argues that a new committee could not be formed through a mass meeting of electors because some of the 2017 committee was still in place.

Natwassie Truly, though, had argued previously that the old committee had not been meeting and a mass public meeting was required to name new members. Her Feb. 1 letter points to the fact that she set the meeting on the advice of a staffer in the secretary of state’s office.

John Scanlon, an attorney for Scanlan, refuted that point, saying he had minutes from previous committee meetings, as well as a resolution from the Canton Board of Aldermen recognizing the Scanlan-led body as the legitimate committee.

As for what all this means when it comes to the city’s Democratic primary results, it is unclear. Officials with Watson’s office have not commented and have denied repeated requests for comment.

Mayor Truly said the votes had been certified and that any confusion related to the election stems from “disgruntled people who don’t want to see the election go forward.” He has set a press conference for 10 a.m. Thursday to discuss the matter further.

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