Mississippi Republicans have declared victory, feeling comfortable enough to caucus and select their nominee for Speaker of the House. But hours before the historic vote to nominate Rep. Phillip Gunn, Democrats were still fighting for their collective lives.
Ground zero in this fight? House District 111, where Republican Charles Busby is leading incumbent Democratic Rep. Brandon Jones with 35 votes.
The Jackson County Election Commission was set to certify the votes Monday morning but Jones’ attorneys, led by liberal blogger Matt Eichelberger, appeared and implored the Commission to not certify the vote until a review of one precinct – ironically named the Fair precinct – offering as their basis for the challenge Mississippi Code Section 23-15-593. This section states:
“When the ballot box is opened and examined by the county executive committee in the case of a primary election, or county election commissioners in the case of other elections, and it is found that there have been failures in material particulars to comply with the requirements of Section 23-15-591 and Section 23-15-895 to such an extent that it is impossible to arrive at the will of the voters at such precinct, the entire box may be thrown out unless it be made to appear with reasonable certainty that the irregularities were not deliberately permitted or engaged in by the managers at that box, or by one (1) of them responsible for the wrong or wrongs, for the purpose of electing or defeating a certain candidate or candidates by manipulating the election or the returns thereof at that box in such manner as to have it thrown out; in which latter case the county executive committee, or the county election commission, as appropriate, shall conduct such hearing and make such determination in respect to said box as may appear lawfully just, subject to a judicial review of said matter as elsewhere provided by this chapter. Or the executive committee, or the election commission, or the court upon review, may order another election to be held at that box appointing new managers to hold the same.”
Busby’s team knew on election night that Jones would be considering a challenge to this precinct when Eichelberger and Company (after already declaring victory) stormed the Election Commission office presenting polling totals that were obviously skewed and unrealistic, numbers that would have had Jones up by some 500 votes in this one box. When Jones’ team asked about their numbers, Election Commissioners noted that the printout was tricky to understand for those untrained in reading the tapes. Busby led by 55 votes election night and after all affidavits and absentees were counted, he still leads by 35.
Jones’ team is also arguing that votership was 9 percent higher four years ago when he first won the seat. Yes, you read that correctly. He is claiming that since vote totals were down there had to be an error in balloting, perhaps given the nature of the split precinct. Only the liberal mentality would allow someone to think that there has to be an error when: 1) not as many people go vote or 2) they go vote and just not for the Democratic candidate.
The Circuit Clerk called Busby Monday to notify him of the challenge raised by Jones’ legal team. Busby, en route to Jackson for the Republican conference, called in local representatives. When those representatives arrived, the Election Commission had already voted unanimously to allow the review of the precinct and not certify the election.
The Circuit Clerk had called the Attorney General’s office for advice regarding the code section in question, and not surprisingly the Democratic-run AG’s office sided with Jones’ team.
Busby’s team was not allowed the opportunity to rebut Eichelberger and Company at the Election Commission prior to their vote. Had they been allowed the opportunity, obvious questions would have been raised regarding the Code Section in question and the debatable basis of using a voting differential to support not certifying the election.
One would think tangible, reasonable evidence would have been produced to argue for the challenge such as a voter complaint or a sworn statement from a poll worker, but nothing was offered up by Jones’s team. No argument had been adequately presented that “there have been failures in material particulars…to such an extent that it is impossible to arrive at the will of the voters at such precinct.” The will of the voters was not in question nor was there any suggestion of error raised by voters or poll workers in this precinct – the only challenge has come from the losing candidate and their ineptitude in reading a printout.
Jones’ team knew that if they were to challenge, getting the Election Commission not to certify the election was key. Pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 23-15-955, should Jones contest the certified election, his appeal would be directed to the full House of Representatives and given the new composition of the House, his chances would be slim to none.
It is worth noting that Brandon Jones won House District 111 in 2007 by 11 votes – 24 less than Busby’s current margin of victory. Jones’ challenger at the time, Tim Lee, did not challenge the vote nor did he ask for any special concessions based on hypotheticals prior to the vote being certified. Lee was being encouraged to challenge by party officials and supporters but chose to accept the will of the voters recognizing the improbability of such an attempt.
So what’s the end game here?
Eichelberger, ever the liberal optimist, tweeted Monday evening, “Gunn was chosen by a minority of the House today, by the way.”
His tweet got me to thinking… Why is this seat so important for the Democrats in the House?
See if you can follow this train of thought.
House Republicans are touting that they have 64 seats, counting this HD 111 seat with Busby and the recent party switch from former- Democrat Donnie Bell, meaning that House Democrats sit at 58 seats.
Should Jones be successful in his challenge, House Democrats would move to 59 seats.
Many in the public are questioning the loyalty of recent party switchers, and by recent I don’t just mean last week. Could there be at least 2 or maybe even 3 opportunistic Republicans floundering out in the wings willing to vote for a House Democratic Speaker nominee if given the right chair or vice chair?
Such a scenario is exactly what the House Democrats are hoping beyond all hope for… and that’s why House District 111 is the battleground right now – it is the seat holding the Democrats’ greatest hope for power. This is their game plan, plain and simple.
Do I see such a scenario playing out in the Democrats’ favor? No, but conservatives around the state should not take anything for granted at this point. The antics in HD 111 should prove that the Democrats still have a little fight left in them. Conservatives must encourage their Republican representatives, especially the recent party switchers, to stick with Gunn for Speaker and not jump ship for any self serving motives come January.
So, is the fix in for Jones? That’s left to be determined.
Representatives for both Busby and Jones are set to meet Tuesday at 10am to compare voter signature rolls with the number of votes cast at the precinct in question. Eichelberger promised Jackson County Election Commissioners that if no more than 35 errors were found Jones would drop the challenge and not object to the certification of the election.
We’ll see if they hold true to their word…