By Joe B. Coates
The time is fleeting for registered voters in Ward 1 in Hazlehurst to decide who they want their next representative on the city board to be. You may recall that this particular election result, in which sitting alderman Frank Jones defeated two other candidates in the May 7 democratic primary last year, was vacated by a third-party judge last fall. Governor Phil Bryant then ordered a special election for Tuesday, February 4 among the same candidates who had qualified for the primary last year. Those candidates are Jones, Jesse Larry and Rev. Charles “The Bail bondsman” Magee.
After the ballots had been counted, Jones led Larry by 19 votes. The election was certified a few days later, and Jones was installed as the alderman for his fourth consecutive term.
However, Larry filed suit against Jones, claiming his civil rights were violated. Special Judge Billy Landrum heard a day of testimony in July on the day that Hazlehurst’s new board was sworn in. Landrum then pondered the evidence for several weeks before making the reversal public in early November. He cited several irregularities that took place during the day of the election and during the counting of the votes–the most glaring being that no one was certified as a member of the Democratic Executive Committee, i.e. the election by law was invalid before the polls even opened. This one item opened the floodgates of potential misleading election day practices. “The will of the people cannot be discerned,” he wrote. Gov. Bryant’s order came in early December.
Special trained monitors will ensure the integrity of this special election from the opening of the polls at 7 a.m. until the last votes are counted and then certified at a later date.
Everyone in Hazlehurst will be anticipating the results of this one election, not only for the outcome, but also as a harbinger of things to come if further Democratic or other primaries, runoffs and general elections are vacated because of such irregularities. Most of all, a voter expects his or her vote to count as one vote. Voters demand top-to-bottom integrity in an election and expect the will of the people to be discerned and applied.
I would bet that from this election forward, this situation won’t occur again in Hazlehurst, and that the Democratic Executive Committee members will be in place and qualified to put on a primary well in advance of the actual primary date. And, for the record, most every other primary election in this city has been properly run.
Those of you that will be casting your ballots on February 4, speak to the candidates in the field and learn what their plan is for your ward. Then, go vote!
By Joe B. Coates