It’s not over yet: Lawsuits filed to challenge Canton’s Democratic primary results

In this Sept. 8, 2020 photo, voting booths are kept socially distant at the Chesterfield, N.H....
In this Sept. 8, 2020 photo, voting booths are kept socially distant at the Chesterfield, N.H. polling site. Democrats and Republicans are involved in hundreds of lawsuits across the country relating to the upcoming election. The lawsuits concern the core fundamentals of the American voting process, including how ballots are cast and counted.(Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer via AP)
Updated: May. 5, 2021 at 1:23 PM CDT
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CANTON, Miss. (WLBT) - Canton’s Democratic primary is again at the center of several lawsuits.

This time, three candidates have filed suit in Madison County Circuit Court seeking to overturn the results of the April 6 primary.

The candidates, Aldermen Fred Esco, Rodriquez Brown, and Tim Taylor, each lost their bids for re-election and have brought suits to challenge the results.

This is the second time the three have found themselves in court in connection to Canton election issues.

Earlier this year, Brown and Esco filed complaints against the Canton Democratic Municipal Executive Committee after they were disqualified for running for office.

And in 2020, Taylor fended off a legal challenge brought by John E. Brown after he narrowly won a special election to fill the Ward Five seat.

This time, Taylor fell to Brown in another close race.

Taylor is challenging his election loss to John E. Brown.
Taylor is challenging his election loss to John E. Brown.(WLBT)

All three point to discrepancies to back up their claims the election results should be set aside.

Taylor, for instance, alleges six voters were moved out of his district into another ward.

“I believe at least five of them would have supported Tim Taylor for alderman Ward Five,” he said.

As for Esco, the former mayor claims he would have won re-election had absentee ballots been made available sooner.

The Ward Two alderman was defeated in his bid by Renee Truss. Truss won the race by a 112-92 vote.

Esco, though, said that many of his voters were unable to participate in the electoral process because absentee voting did not begin on time.

Absentee voting started March 27, days before the April 6 primary. Under state statute, absentee ballots are supposed to be made available to voters 45 days before party primaries.

However, ballots were not printed on time, in part, because of challenges brought by Esco, Brown, Mayor William Truly and his wife Natwassie Truly.

Truly is at the center of a controversy surrounding the city of Canton's Democratic Municipal...
Truly is at the center of a controversy surrounding the city of Canton's Democratic Municipal Executive Committee.(WLBT)

The four had been disqualified to seek the Democratic nomination by the group known as the “Legitimate Democratic Executive Committee” on the grounds of residency requirements.

Natwassie Truly, a member of the Canton DMEC, was seeking re-election to the post.

A special judge appointed to preside over the case ruled that the four, along with Monica Gilkey, could have their names added back to the ballot.

Esco points to the 2017 primary to back up his assertion. That year, 63 absentee votes were cast, with Esco receiving 51. This year, only seven absentee votes were counted, of which Esco received four.

“This failure to provide the statutory 45-day period for absentee voting disenfranchised many Canton Democratic primary voters, including many who would have voted for Esco if given the time and opportunity required by statute,” his suit states.

Brown, meanwhile, argues that his opponent submitted his paperwork late and therefore shouldn’t have been allowed to run.

The Ward One representative was bested by Colby Walker 133 to 122, in a rematch of 2017.

The deadline to qualify was 5 p.m. on Feb 5. However, Brown alleges Walker’s qualifying fee was not submitted until 5:15 p.m. that day. He said he has documentation from former City Clerk Allyson Majors to back up that claim.

Mayor Truly, though, refutes that claim and said previously that Walker not only submitted his paperwork on time, but he has video surveillance from City Hall proving it.

A copy of that video has not been made available to WLBT.

The challenges represent yet another wrinkle in what has already been a contentious election season for the city of 13,500. At the heart of the matter is the city’s Democratic executive committee.

One group, led by John Scanlan and Marion Freeman, say they’re the legitimate committee and that Natwassie Truly is a member.

Truly claims that the committee led by Scanlan never met and that she had to form a second committee so the election could move forward.

A second committee was appointed on Jan. 30 at a public meeting at the Canton Multipurpose Complex. That meeting was led by Truly, and Scanlan and Freeman were not in attendance.

Scanlan and Freeman, meanwhile, held a special meeting of their own appointing new committee members. Truly did not attend that meeting.

Municipal executive committees are responsible for overseeing party primaries. Duties include everything from training poll workers and ensuring voting machines are operable to qualifying candidates and certifying results.

This year, neither committee ran the primary and a special election integrity commission had to be appointed by the state party.

The results were eventually certified by members of the committee appointed at the Jan. 30 meeting.

However, those results were rejected by Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson.

In a letter to Truly, the secretary said that the individuals who signed off on the report had not been duly elected to the DMEC.

The reports were resubmitted to the secretary’s office days later, with Truly saying members had been reappointed per state statute, and Watson accepted the results.

Lawsuits filed, though, argue that the results were not signed off on by Scanlan or Freeman and should be tossed.

Taylor points to other discrepancies as well. One of his supporters, LaTonya Bryant, “was denied the right to vote and was not permitted to vote affidavit,” his complaint reads. “Had LaTonya Bryant been permitted to vote … she would have cast her ballot for me.

“She was denied a write-in vote in a precinct she’s been voting in for 20 years,” Taylor said prior to filing.

Additionally, Taylor also claims his opponent had poll watchers at the poll manager’s table and that his opponent was campaigning too close to the polling place.

Typically, election results are supposed to be appealed to the election commission. However, in the case of Taylor, Esco, and Brown, it was unclear exactly which commission they had to appeal to.

In late April, Brown and his attorney Walter Zinn, Taylor, and attorneys for Esco met with a couple of members of the Scanlan committee for what Democratic consultant Ed Hutchison said was a “fact-finding” meeting.

The meeting was held at MerriePennie’s in Canton. However, only two members of the five-member Scanlan committee were present.

“I’m not even sure which committee to sue,” Zinn said. “The group that certified the election did not serve during the election.”

Zinn ultimately filed Brown’s suit against Walker, Scanlan, Truly and Freeman, so that an appeal would be on record within 30 days of the election. He said it could be amended later if need be.

Taylor, meanwhile, said he attempted to appeal his case to the committee led by Truly, but the committee did not show up to hear his arguments.

Standing in city hall, he played a voice mail he says was from member Elaine Blair saying that his meeting with the Truly committee needed to be rescheduled.

The meeting was initially slated for 9 a.m., Friday, April 27, but the person in the voicemail said members needed to move it to 12:30.

However, at 12:30, only Taylor and two members of the integrity committee were present.

Natwassie Truly, though, said Taylor never sent anything to the election committee to formally contest the race. “He wanted to review the sign-in sheets. That’s what he requested of us and the city clerk, and he reviewed those,” she said. “Why would we deny him a hearing when the committee has held two hearings for two other candidates?”

Brown and Esco had both appeared before the Truly committee.

Blair could not be reached for comment.

Natwassie Truly said Taylor never requested a hearing, and only requested to review ballot boxes.
Natwassie Truly said Taylor never requested a hearing, and only requested to review ballot boxes.(Natwassie Truly)

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