Democrats Challenge November Ballot Order

By: Jon Kalahar Email
By: Jon Kalahar Email

Because Trent Lott retired before his term as a U.S. senator was complete, a special election will be held to determine who will replace him. That special election is being held Nov. 4, the same time as regular federal elections.

In Mississippi, special elections have always been placed at the bottom of the ballot. But Democrats see that practice as hurting their chances of winning.

On the Secretary of State's recommendation, Gov. Haley Barbour approved the sample ballot to be used in November's election. It will include the race for president, two U. S. Senate seats and the entire Mississippi Supreme Court.

But it's where the race between Sen. Roger Wicker and former governor Ronnie Musgrove is actually located on the ballot that was called into question.

"What I saw today was an absolutely lawless decision of the secretary of state and the governor," said Tim Phillips, Musgrove's campaign manager.

Phillips wanted the Wicker-Musgrove race moved up the ballot. Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, concurred, citing a change in the Mississippi code in 2000 that lays out the ballot with national races first and statewide races to follow.

Hosemann and Barbour disagreed saying the special election must be clearly marked for voters and Mississippi has always done that by placing at the end of the ballot.

"It seems to me this is a special election and we need to follow the rules we've always followed," said Hosemann.

Plus, the new electronic voting booths notify voters if they did not vote on a particular race.

"You'd have to three times determine that you do not want to vote in this election," said Barbour. "You have to push the button to say, 'I'm not going to vote in that election'."

Hosemann said in the 2007 election, voting from the top of the ballot to the bottom dropped off less than two percent, a minimal amount by his estimation. The Musgrove campaign believes this will confuse voters.

"People are going to see millions of dollars in advertising on this race and then they are going to go looking for it and it's not going to be at the top of the ballot," said Phillips.

But the issue isn't over. Pike County Election commissioner Trudy Berger has filed a temporary restraining order against Hosemann to keep him from sending out the ballots. Berger said she feels voters will be confused and skip the race unintentionally. She is asking the Hinds County Circuit Court to place the race at the top of the ballot.

Gov. Barbour issued a news release late Tuesday afternoon, saying in part, "When Democrat Eric Clark was Secretary of State, the sample ballots he prepared in 2002, 2004 and 2006 included special elections at the end of the sample ballot. In each of those years, Secretary Clark also included specific instructions to the county election commissioners that special elections should be placed at the end of the ballot. Then-Governor Ronnie Musgrove approved the 2002 sample ballot prepared by Secretary Clark. I approved the 2004 and 2006 sample ballots prepared by Secretary Clark. Now, Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has taken exactly the same position as his Democratic predecessor. My position on the placement of special elections on the ballot has remained the same. I approved the sample ballots prepared by Eric Clark and Delbert Hosemann, both with special elections at the end of the ballot."


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