Local Dems file lawsuit to prevent election if judge lines not cleared

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 9, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Adams County Democrats are asking a circuit judge to delay justice court judge and constable elections unless the Justice Department preclears district lines by a certain date.

The Adams County Democratic Executive Committee filed suit Thursday in Circuit Court against the Board of Supervisors to enjoin the elections.

In the lawsuit Thomas McNeely, attorney for the Democratic Committee, notes that primary elections are set for Aug. 5. However, the deadline for ballots to be printed and received by the circuit clerk is June 23.

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While it does not request a certain date, the suit asks the court to set a time by which the Justice Department’s approval should be received.

If it is not received by the date the court sets, according to the complaint, &uot;the plaintiff requests that the election be enjoined and that the voting machines be blocked out for the election in the justice court (and constable) districts.&uot;

If that happens, the lawsuit asks that the court issue an order allowing the current justice court judges and constables to continue in those positions until a special election can take place.

As of the 2000 Census, Adams County’s population dropped below 35,000, and under state law counties of fewer than 35,000 people can only have two justice court judges and two constables.

A bill that would have allowed the county to keep three districts &045; Northern, Southern and Southeastern &045; died in a legislative committee earlier this year.

But candidates had already qualified to run in the Southeastern District. They will now be listed on the ballot as running in the new Northern or Southern districts, depending on where they live.

As of earlier this week, the county has not sent its two-district judge and constable map to the Justice Department for preclearance because it had not received a legal description of the district line from its mapping consultant.

But Bob Latham, an attorney for the board of supervisors, said he received that description Thursday and hoped to overnight mail it, along with maps and other requested information, to the Justice Department later that day.

But meanwhile, McNeely said, &uot;We (the Democratic Committee) are getting phone calls from candidates about this. Some are holding off campaigning. Š So we felt obligated to do something.&uot;

A date has not yet been set for Democrats’ lawsuit to be heard, although McNeely said it could be heard by the court as early as next week.

&uot;We’re asking for an expedited hearing,&uot; he said.

However, Latham said his understanding of the law is that lawsuits filed under the Voting Rights Act must be filed in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, not local courts.

&uot;I don’t see what their concern is,&uot; Latham said, referring to the Democratic Committee. &uot;I feel confident the Justice Department will address our plan within the timeframe we’re talking about here &045; before the primary elections.&uot;

Besides, Latham said, primary elections can still be held as long as the Justice Department’s approval is received before the November general elections.

&uot;At least, that’s my understanding,&uot; Latham said. &uot;Receiving that clearance validates the (primary) elections. It’s only if you received it after the general elections were held that there would be problems.&uot;