Unseating of Eaton legitimateBy PETE PERRY,
I have just read your editorial praising your friend, former State Representative Bo Eaton and publishing all his criticisms of the current legislature. While I think there is plenty of disagreement on Rep. Eaton’s opinion about the legislative issues, this letter is to address the gross misrepresentation you make in the opening paragraphs about the 2015 election process that caused Rep. Eaton to no longer be a member of the Legislature.
You state – “It was a blatant power play by the Republicans” when the “Republican Legislature threw out nine affidavit ballots and seated Tullos anyway.” First, there was nothing blatant about the process that challenged the election results from Smith County; the process is outlined in Mississippi Statute and contests such as the Eaton/Tullos contest are brought every election in cities and counties across the state. It is not a ‘blatant power play’ when a candidate follows the law and files a contest regarding an election.
Secondly, the Republican Legislature did not “throw out nine affidavit ballots”; all total in this election there were originally 20 affidavit ballots rejected in Smith County by the Smith County election commission on Tuesday night at the close of the polls. (Affidavit ballots are ballots cast by individuals who appear to not be properly registered to vote in their precinct and in every election in every county there are dozens, hundreds, or as in a large county such as Hinds, literally thousands of affidavit ballots cast every election.) On election night, the Smith County Election Commission rejected these very same nine affidavit ballots in accordance with the statute and following the same process they had used for decades in reviewing and accepting affidavits in the county.
One week later, after the total results of the election were known to everyone – with the exception of four ballots cast subject to the Voter ID requirements – and those results were that Tullos had surprisingly beaten the powerful Eaton, the Smith County Election Commission met in secret and decided to change their opinion about rejecting these nine affidavit ballots. Unknown to anyone except the five commissioners and the circuit clerk, the commission changed their ruling about rejecting these particular ballots (not changing their decision on the other 11) and ruled the ballot envelopes should be opened and counted.
Further complicating the commission’s action, they proceeded to open the envelopes – claiming, though, that they did not count the votes as cast. Nobody was around to sell any Smith County oceanfront property during that meeting, so we can accept as fact that although they met in secret and opened the envelopes and removed the ballots – nobody looked to see what the results of this highly interesting very close election would be after these nine ballots were added to the totals.
The following day three of the four Voter ID voters had come to the clerk’s office and provided their identification, thereby making their votes valid to be opened and counted. The fourth individual had not come to the courthouse despite strong “encouragement” by some of the local officials. When the five o’clock deadline approached, the circuit clerk made the statement that the results would be a tied election since this fourth individual was not coming in to validate his ballot. Somehow, that statement ended up being absolutely accurate when the nine “uncounted” new affidavit ballots and the three Voter ID ballots were added to the results.
Frankly, what followed was exactly what Mississippi election law provides for – a contest of the election results due to the inappropriate counting of these nine affidavit ballots that were added to the results when their votes were needed to provide a winning margin to your idolized Rep. Eaton. The Mississippi House of Representatives chose to follow the law and reject those ballots because they did not meet the requirements of Mississippi election law to be accepted as an affidavit ballot. That was not a ‘blatant power play’ – it was a correct action to overcome the ‘blatant power play’ of some local officials who tried to steal the election in Smith County.
As to the federal court case and its possibility of changing the results of this election, it would have to overrule all affidavit balloting processes in Mississippi. Plus – and this should be of great interest, but of course is omitted from your smear of the Legislature – there was a 10th affidavit ballot that fit the exact same circumstances as the nine that were accepted and opened by the election commission. During the Legislature’s hearing on this contest, the Eaton lawyers argued vehemently against the Legislature voting to accept and open this ballot envelope as the election commission had done for the nine similar situated affidavits. Why? Well, probably because knowing who the voter was they had determined how he had cast his vote in this election, and if it had been counted, Eaton would have been one vote short.
Before you expound on your opinion about “blatant power plays” you should bother to check the facts, not take the word of your wife’s babysitting friend. There was a lot to this story that occurred as ‘blatant power plays’ in the infamous Smith County before the legal and proper challenge was brought to the Legislature. It would seem appropriate to look into those actions and weigh them against the facts before you write your editorials. I realize, though, that it ruins a good story and that is what is important to newspapers. Why should I expect anything different?
James L. (Pete) Perry