Election matter cleared

Updated census data, an election year, a lawsuit, existing and proposed boundary maps, unclear signals from the state capitol, perceived inequality in candidate qualifying, general misinformation and misunderstanding–all have contributed to the current toxic soup of local redistricting and its perceived affects on this year’s elections in Copiah County.

Throw in the mix a February 25 deadline for Central Mississippi Planning and Development District–with whom the Board of Supervisors is engaged–to have redrawn the new lines based on current census data for each district and a deadline of March 1 for potential candidates to qualify to run in the 2011 elections, and the mess has gotten even messier.

But wait–there’s more.  The primary election is scheduled for August 2; absentee ballots must be prepared by June 15; and, June 1 is the latest date by state statute that any changes can be made to supervisor district lines ahead of an election (Section 23-15-285 of the Mississippi Code of 1972, Annotated.)

Furthermore, the federal Department of Justice must have its say.  Any changes that affect voting and elections in the Great State of Mississippi must be approved by the United States Department of Justice, according to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, before said changes can become law.  And, the standard time for review by the DOJ is 60 days.  If DOJ objects, then the changes have to be reconsidered or presented to a court.  

On top of all that, numerous counties throughout the state and those in many other states must submit new district plans to the USDOJ.

“For Copiah to adopt new Supervisor and Justice Court Judge district lines and have meaningful public input and have this plan submitted to the Department of Justice and approved in time for the deadline is basically impossible,” Munn said in a faxed statement on Monday.

One thing is for certain: the elections will proceed along current boundaries for supervisors and justice court judges, according to Elise Munn, Board Attorney for Copiah County Supervisors–just like it was 2007 or 2003.

Even though Copiah County–like many other in the state–has been sued by the Hazlehurst chapter of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP) and Nanette Thurmond-Smith seeking an injunction to delay the election, allowing possible candidates to qualify based on the new districts, Munn said the board has “no authority to do anything but follow state law, which mandates the referenced deadlines be met.” While the Board is currently undergoing the re-districting process, the court has not issued an injunction, nor extended any qualifying deadline.  Even the Attorney General of the State of Mississippi has declared that the elections “should go forward as set forth by law.”

The Board has presented a new supervisors’ plan at two public hearings and is working on one for the Justice Courts, both of which will continue to be solicited for public input up until the time the plans are submitted to the USDOJ–expected to be in the coming months, Munn said.

And, even though the Board has had numerous complaints that the process seems rushed and disallows the public’s chance to offer input, “Copiah County has sought to avoid that situation” by working with the public and keeping everyone informed.

So, until a court rules otherwise or state laws are altered, the 2011 elections will proceed as the ones that were held in 2003 and 2007 –primary election August 2, run-off August 23 and general election November 8.

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