Few counties in Mississippi have held more elections during the last 15 months than Union County.
Tomorrow’s Union County primary run-off elections — Democrat and Republican — will, by our count, be the seventh time voters here have gone to the polls since June 2014.
A small army of poll workers and the half-dozen election officials who are responsible for holding elections have put in several hundred more hours than in a “normal” election year.
Already six trips to the polls since June 2014
There was the hotly contested primary contest last year for the U.S. Senate seat that Thad Cochran has held since December 1978. Chris McDaniel, a Tea Party hero, challenged Cochran in the June Republican primary. Another Republican, Thomas Carey, was also on the ballot. Carey got only 4,854 votes — 1.5% — state-wide, but it was enough to throw the Republican nomination into a run-off. Cochran won a majority of Republican primary votes in the June 24, 2014, primary run-off, edging McDaniel by 7,000.
Then McDaniel claimed that Democrats had unlawfully voted in the run-off and challenged the result. Union County, like most other counties in the state, had McDaniel workers checking its records, trying to find proof that Cochran had “stolen” the election. It didn’t work. The courts ruled against McDaniel, but not until local election officials had put a lot of time and energy into helping McDaniel’s people comb through the voter rolls.
Anyway, the Senate Republican primary required two election days.
Voters then voted in the November general election and, here in the First Congressional District, Republican incumbent Alan Nunnelee was re-elected without opposition. On February 6, 2014, about a month into his third term, Nunnelee died.
Special elections were called and drew 13 candidates. It was a “non-partisan” election, meaning candidates did not run by party, but 12 considered themselves Republicans and only Walter Zinn, an African-American lawyer from Pontotoc, identified as a Democrat.
Then Zinn, who spent no money on his campaign, came in first with 17% of the votes. Although the First is considered a “safe” Republican congressional district, there were simply too many Republicans. Of course, District Attorney Trent Kelly of Tupelo, the runner-up and a Republican, overwhelmed Zinn in the May 12, 2015, run-off and is now our sitting congressman.
In any event that was two more elections-worth of extra work for Union County election officials.
Three weeks ago, voters made their sixth trip the polls for the August 4th Primary election, which necessitated the 7th trip to the polls to settle both Democratic and Republican run-off races on August 25th.
Who does all this work for Union County voters?
Union County Circuit Clerk Phyllis Stanford is, by law, the top election official in Union County. Tomorrow’s run-off will be the seventh election she and her staff have worked since June 2014. Circuit Clerk is one of the more prominent offices in Mississippi County, and Phyllis Stanford is well known, having now served 11 years in that job.
Less well known is a group of election officials who put in hundreds of hour of work on every election. That group is the Union County Election Commission. Their job is to maintain the poll books and to make certain that every one of Union County’s 20 voting precincts have all the voting machines and several dozen other physical objects, some very small in size, that they must have to hold a proper election.
They also assist the circuit clerk and poll workers on election day and then certify the results after the election.
There are five election commissioners, one for each of Union County’s five supervisory districts. They are elected for four-year terms by a non-partisan vote during the years of presidential elections.
The commissioners held one of their many unseen work sessions last week in rooms on the second floor and south side of the county courthouse.
And actual hands-on work it was.
Election Commission Chairman Wayne Wilhite presided as his fellow commissioners gathered from shelves and boxes around the room many pages of paper forms, electronic encoders, several metal seals, two paper seals, a laminated card illustrating acceptable voter identification cards, etc. Wilhite had a check list for every precinct, separate ones for Democrats and Republicans. As he called out the items needed, the other commissioners gathered the items, put them in plastic zip lock bags, which went into larger zip lock bags, which went into a large plastic sleeve, which went into large galvanized steel boxes with carrying handles.
“Two encoders per precinct, two voter access cards per machine, supervisor card, three metal seals, two paper seals…” Wilhite called out. “Here it is…it’s in the bag…done…” answered the other commissioners on every item, and so it went.
Graham Spencer, Mike Beam, Bill Azlin, Barbara Reed, and Wayne Wilhite, for the seventh time in 15 months, carefully making sure that every single precinct had every single thing it would need. Checked and double checked.
In October they will do it all over again for the November 3 general election.
And, by all means, since these folks have done all this work to make it possible, GO VOTE!
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New Albany MS, Union County Election Commission