Pine Belt counties to use "write-in" ballot

By Mike McDaniel - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - If you're a voter in Forrest, Lamar, Marion, Pearl River or Perry county there's a ballot for you and for one of the races on it, how you cast it just changed.

"Our voters are going to be confused, it was confusing to me when I first heard what we were going to have to do," said Perry County Circuit Clerk Martha Clark.

What you'll "have to do" is write-in a candidate for district 10, Chancery judge. The seat was held by James Thomas Jr., who died last week and since he was running unopposed, his name will still appear on the ballot as the only candidate.

"It will still take his vote, so I'm feeling like he's going to get a lot of votes," said Clark.

With less than 30 days before the election both Clark and Forrest County Circuit Clerk Lou Ellen Adams say a write-in vote is not the way to go, especially since most voters won't know who the candidates are or even the qualifications for the position.

"I think it's confusing on the clerk's part and it's certainly going to be confusion on the voters and also the candidates that were interested in this position, I mean, it's just confusion, said Adams."

"They have to, just out of there head, think of someone to just put on this write in vote," said Clark.

Since the death of Judge Thomas, an appointed judge is now filling the void until after the election. An election Clark feels is unconstitutional and could invite lawsuit after lawsuit.

"Whoever wins this election, the ones that were seeking this position are going to think it's unfair," said Clark.

This is now the second time in a month a write-in ballot was order by the state in the Pine Belt area. Election leaders in Jasper, Simpson, Smith and Covington Counties filed an injunction to stop the November election of a circuit judge who also died and was the only candidate. So far, no court filings in this race, but Adams and Clark say the better option would be to wait for a special election next year.

"As a circuit clerk we have to protect the integrity of the election process and so, I just do my best to do that, but right now, I'm just at a loss," said Adams.

State leaders ordered the write-in ballots because of state statutes requiring to do so. A law now causing more questions and concerns than answers and solutions.

"In January when the clerks meet I really think our main agenda needs to be to change that law," said Clark.

Copyright 2010 WDAM. All rights reserved.