Madison Co. election officials facing contempt charges following board of supervisors vote

Published: Jul. 12, 2021 at 3:41 PM CDT
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MADISON COUNTY, Miss. (WLBT) - Senior Status Judge Jeff Weill has ordered Madison County election officials to appear in court Tuesday to say why they’re not following his order to take over Canton’s special called elections.

On July 1, Weill ordered a redo in the Ward 2 and Ward 5 alderman races. As part of that order, he mandated that Madison County oversee the elections, despite the fact that Madison County was not a party in the initial election challenges.

Days later, on July 6 the Madison County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on a motion to order Board Attorney Mike Espy to explore all options “to remove the Madison County Circuit Clerk, the Madison County Election Commission and the Madison County Board of Supervisors from any and all obligations and duties under (the) order.”

Two days later, on July 8, attorneys Ed Blackmon and David Humphreys filed a joint motion for an order to show cause.

“If you’re not following an order, you have to show up and give the reason why you’re not or face contempt charges,” Humphreys said. “My clients and my opponent’s clients feel that the county should step up because the spring elections were such a mess.”

The news represents yet another wrinkle in an election season fraught with controversy and yet another attempt for the Madison County Board of Supervisors to wash their hands of Canton’s elections.

In February, the Canton Board of Aldermen asked the county to take over the elections. County election commissioners voted to do so, but the board of supervisors overruled them.

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

Supervisors discussed whether they had to take over the elections under state statute, and directed board attorney Mike Espy to seek an attorney general’s opinion to determine whether the county was required to.

The county also asked Espy to determine whether if it could hire a third party to oversee the elections.

“I’m very concerned about getting involved at all in the city of CAnton when it comes to politics and running their election,” Steen said. “Hopefully, we can come up with another option that will not involve the board of supervisors.”

In March, Espy wrote to Attorney General Lynn Fitch seeking an expedited opinion, saying the party primaries were only weeks away. However, as of July 12, no opinion had been handed down.

Madison County aside, the city itself has been embroiled in election drama. Two groups claimed they were the legitimate Democratic Municipal Executive Committee and multiple lists of qualifying candidates, each with a different set of signatures, were submitted to the Madison County Circuit Clerk for consideration.

The duty of the DMEC is to oversee the Democratic primary. That includes certifying candidates to run for office. One committee, chaired by John Scanlan, did not certify Mayor William Truly and his wife, Natwassie Truly, on residency requirements. Natwassie was seeking a second term on the DMEC.

Several disqualified candidates filed suit, and a judge ruled that all candidates could appear on the Democratic ballot.

Following the Democratic primary, three losing candidates filed suit in Madison County Circuit Court challenging the election results. Two of those candidates, Fred Esco and Tim Taylor, essentially won their suits, with new elections scheduled in their races.

Later, the Canton Municipal Election Commission, which oversees the general election, refused to certify those results, citing a court ruling from Weill.

Weill, in a mid-June order, nullified the results of the Democratic primary, saying the group that ran the election had been illegally formed. The committee that eventually ran the primary was the group known as the “Temporary DMEC” formed by Natwassie Truly.

The Mississippi Secretary of State initially would not accept the Democratic results, saying the Truly committee had not been properly formed. However, Secretary Michael Watson’s office eventually did accept the results after he said the Truly committee had been re-formed per state statute.

Last week, with the election still in limbo, the secretary of state demanded that the Canton election commission certify the general results or show cause why the results were not certified.

That show cause order must be fulfilled by July 13, according to Asst. Secretary of State Kendra James.

Attorneys for the Madison Co. Board of Supervisors and Election Commission were unavailable for comment.

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