Canton aldermen ask county to oversee election

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CANTON — The City of Canton wants to abolish the city’s election commission and is asking the Madison County Board of Supervisors to take over the city’s future elections, including upcoming municipal elections in April.

Madison County Board of Supervisors Attorney Mike Espy said the City of Canton mailed him the request last week with a resolution and ordinance passed by the board of alderman to that effect.

“It basically said that the City of Canton felt it would be more efficient for them in the upcoming elections which are coming up in April to abolish their municipal elections commission,” Espy said.

Following Canton’s 2017 municipal elections, 12 different people faced charges stemming from the elections, including former Canton School Board member Courtney Rainey who was later sentenced to more than a decade in prison for intimidating witnesses in the Canton voter fraud investigation stemming from the 2017 municipal elections.

Others include former Canton Alderman Vickie McNeil, who had four counts of voter fraud dropped after she agreed to step down from her position and former Ward 7 Alderman Andrew Grant, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit voter fraud and received a suspended prison sentence of five years. 

Former Canton City Clerk Valerie Smith pleaded guilty to one count of violation of voter registration, and Donnell Robinson was indicted on one count of voter fraud for voting as an unqualified person. Robinson later pleaded guilty to the charge as a misdemeanor and received a one-year suspended jail sentence with six months probation.

Desmand King, deputy City Clerk, was indicted in December 2018 on two counts of voter fraud. His case was dismissed. Sherman Matlock was indicted on charges of voting as an unqualified person because of a previous manslaughter conviction, and former Canton Fire Chief Cary Johnson and Jennifer Robinson, both indicted on voter fraud, were entered into the DA's pre-trial diversion program instead of a trial.

“They said it would be more efficient for them to cancel the municipal election commission … (because) of difficulties with the last election of 2017,” Espy said during Monday’s board of supervisors meeting.

Espy said the city’s request falls under a fairly recent state statute 2315-221 of the Mississippi Code that states if no other options are available, the municipality can petition the county government within the county it is located to conduct their elections.

“That’s everything — that’s polling locations, ballots, hiring poll workers — the whole shebang,” Espy said, adding the county would have to agree to take over.

Supervisors had questions about whether the county is obligated to comply with the request including what other options Canton might have and whether the statute requires the county to help. If so, could that open the door for other cities to ask the county to take over their elections?

Espy said he could not speculate on what negotiations might bring and noted that Canton Mayor William Truly’s signature was not on the letter sent to Espy requesting the county take over the city's election commission.

“I’m not going to have the answers today,” Espy said.

Supervisors unanimously agreed to have Espy meet with the Canton City Attorney and Truly to discuss other options and potential costs of taking over municipal elections.


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