Hattiesburg, Mississippi, is in the middle of a contest over the mayoral race that took place June 4. In that race, the incumbent Mayor Johnny DuPree was certified as the winner by 37 votes over challenger Dave Ware.
That margin existed after the counting of all the affidavit and absentee ballots. In Mississippi, after the election is certified by the Election Commissioners, candidates can ask to review all ballots, and that’s what Ware chose to do.
The state had ruled the other candidates must do any reviews separately, so after that, the incumbent’s lawyers reviewed ballots. On the 21st day after the election, Ware filed petitions in Forrest and Lamar county circuit courts, citing a list of alleged irregularities in the counting of votes as well as harassment of poll watchers on election day.
The state Supreme Court has named a special judge to hear the case with no date set as yet.
All of this has reminded me of some elections in my home state of Nebraska. I often tell people here about Nebraska laws that stem from its early days as a Populist state and later measures initiated by the late Gov. George Norris, a Progressive.
Nebraska voters have the authority of initiative, referendum and recall of all laws and elected officials. Using petitions to bring such matters to a vote, citizens can initiate new laws and recall existing ones as well as elected state officials.
The last time I voted in an election in Kearney, Nebraska, was in the early 1960s. Paper ballots were still being used at that time, and although my memory might be playing tricks on me, I believe we voted on some 300 measures. As I recall, the ballot was more than an inch thick.
Issues on the ballot included recall of the state treasurer – successful – and referenda on all state tax laws. All of those passed, requiring first a special session of the unicameral legislature of 42 members to consider and pass new ones. In addition, a special election was needed to elect a new treasurer.
In other places not accustomed to having that kind of direct voter power, the idea of dumping all the state tax code might seem odd, not to mention frightening. My feelings at the time, I remember, were of citizen power and democracy in action.
Now the citizens of Hattiesburg, many of whom were disenfranchised until recent decades, wait for the decision about the results of the mayoral race. It’s possible a “do-over” will be declared.
For the first time since I’ve lived here, however, we are all seeing clearly how important one person, one vote is and that for those who do vote, it counts.