Secretary of State seeking court order to certify Canton municipal elections

Michael Watson gives an interview previously.
Michael Watson gives an interview previously.
Published: Jul. 26, 2021 at 6:25 PM CDT
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CANTON, Miss. (WLBT) - Another legal front has been opened in the battle over Canton’s elections.

Friday, Secretary of State Michael Watson filed suit in Madison County Circuit Court seeking a court order requiring the Canton Municipal Election Commission to certify the June 8 election results.

The commission has refused to certify them, pointing to the fact Senior Status Judge Jeff Weill ruled that the committee overseeing the Democratic primary was invalid. Winners from the Democratic primary went on to the general election, and in most cases, were unchallenged.

The secretary’s suit represents yet another legal challenge filed in response to the 2021 Canton elections.

Three aldermen filed suit previously seeking the results of the Democratic primary to be thrown out. Candidates in two of those races have agreed to have new elections in August. Jury selection in a third challenge between Colby Walker and Rodriquez Brown was expected to begin Tuesday.

Brown lost to Walker in the Democratic primary. Brown is challenging the results, saying his opponent did not submit his qualifying paperwork before the deadline and should not have been allowed to run.

Meanwhile, Republican mayoral candidate Chip Matthews is asking the judge to throw out the results of the general election, saying no Democratic candidate qualified to run. Matthews fell to incumbent Mayor William Truly, a Democrat by more than 200 votes.

Watson argues he has requested the commission to certify the results multiple times, but to no avail.

The secretary’s latest attempt was on July 15, when he sent a letter to the three-member commission “instructing them to certify the results as required by” Mississippi Code. The letter demanded a response by July 19.

Instead CMEC reached out to the Attorney General’s Office for an opinion, and send a copy of that request to Watson.

According to the July 19 letter, CMEC was seeking guidance on whether the commission has the statutory authority to certify results that include candidates “whose candidates for inclusion on the general election ballot derived from a Democratic Municipal Executive Committee that was invalidly formed.”

The Democratic primary was overseen by a temporary DMEC formed by Natwassie Truly, the wife of the current mayor. Weill ruled that the committee was improperly formed.

Secondly, if CMEC has the statutory authority to certify the results, does it also have the discretion to refuse to certify the results and/or order a new election based on the facts of case?

“The CMEC’s decision-making process would benefit greatly from an opinion as to its duties and obligations given the... situation,” CMEC attorney John Martin wrote. “The citizens of Canton would be best served by a decision on this issue now before more time and resources are consumed in litigated matters.”

CMEC said as much in a letter to Watson last month. “Because the primary results were certified by (the invalid committee), and the court has stated that these actions are invalid, it calls into question all actions, like certifying the nominees that were on the primary ballot.”

Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s office declined to offer an opinion, saying the matter was pending in court.

In the July 23 suit filed by Watson, an attorney for Fitch’s office signed on as the attorney of record.

CMEC Chair Felicia Horton said the lack of guidance from Fitch has made an uneasy situation all the more difficult.

“We are trying to maneuver through a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with us,” she said. “We’re going to make the best decision we can.”

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