Judge: County will have Nov. elections

Published 11:09 pm Monday, October 29, 2007

NATCHEZ — A circuit judge ruled Monday in no uncertain terms that Wilkinson County would have general elections Nov. 6, “come hell or high water.”

The state attorney general’s office filed a petition Oct. 22 expressing concern “that the level of animosity and division among and between (election officials) will result in a failure to carry out the Nov. 6 general election.”

The petition asked the court to insist Wilkinson County election officials put the 20 non-contested races on the ballot and move forward with elections. It did not ask the court to resolve three disputed races — supervisor district 2, circuit clerk and sheriff — awaiting federal hearing.

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After hearing from election commissioners and county supervisors, Judge Forrest “Al” Johnson ordered that the election go forward and no officials should interfere with the Nov. 6 elections.

“I can’t tell you how to do your job,” Johnson said to election commissioners and supervisors present Monday morning. “But I can give you fair warning that the general election in Wilkinson County had better proceed as scheduled — to make myself clear, come hell or high water.”

The county should put the 20 non-contested races on a ballot and have it approved by the secretary of state, Johnson said.

However, proceedings later in the day might have changed the outcome of the day’s events, placing the originally approved candidates for the three contested races on the ballot. Attorneys were not available for comment by press time.

The attorney general’s petition suggested election officials might obstruct the elections.

In his order Monday, Johnson warned if they do so, “you do so at your own peril, both individually and collectively.”

Failure to abide by the order could result in fines, jail time or both, Johnson said after the hearing.

Attorneys for the Wilkinson County sheriff and circuit clerk said they wanted clarification that their clients did nothing wrong.

“The court is not saying anyone did anything wrong,” Johnson said at the hearing. “But there had better be an election.”

History already told too many stories of citizens denied the right to vote, Johnson said.

Johnson said he recognized elections could be emotionally charged.

“But (the right to vote) has been too hard to come by for too many people,” he said.

Wilkinson County residents who filled the courtroom seats muttered in agreement.

If the federal court does not rule in time for the three races to be put on the ballot, a special election could be scheduled, said Harold Pizzetta, who represented the attorney general’s office.

The three races were contested after the August Democratic primary elections among allegations of voter fraud and vote buying. Disagreements among election officials as to which candidates belonged on the ballots have held up the creation of official general election ballots.

Election Commission Chairman Robert Arbuthnott said Monday he was worried that the three contested races might be left off the ballot.

“It’s kind of an injustice to those three races,” Arbuthnott said. “I’m afraid we’re not even going to have a chance to use absentee ballots.”