by Geoff Pender
The Mississippi Republican Party is asking the state Supreme Court to dissolve an emergency order a judge issued on election night keeping polls open in Hinds County, saying the order violated state law and the court lacked jurisdiction.
The state Republican Party filing notes the issue is spilled milk with the election over, but says the high court should make a ruling to prevent future problems and because the issues are “of great public interest.” It said conflicting court actions on election night caused confusion and run the risk of “sowing public doubt about the reliability of election results.”
On Nov. 7, there were numerous reports of Hinds County precincts running out of ballots or not having proper ballots, and voters reportedly waited in long lines or left without casting ballots. The state Democratic Party filed for an emergency order in chancery court to keep Hinds County polls open an extra hour that night. Chancellor Dewayne Thomas granted the order.
But in a separate case filed that night by Mississippi Votes, a Jackson nonprofit organization, in Hinds County Circuit Court, the Mississippi Supreme Court appointed a special judge, former Supreme Court Judge Jess Dickinson, to hear the matter. Dickinson issued an order that simply repeated existing state law: that people who were in line when the polls closed at 7 p.m. could vote if they remained in line.
In a petition filed this week with the state high court, the Republican Party argued chancery court lacks jurisdiction to be involved in such issues, that it should have been given notice of the Democratic Party’s petition that night, and that there is a lack of evidence that the ballot shortage was widespread or caused problems for many voters. The petition describes the “unknown and possibly surreptitious nature” of the Democratic Party’s filing that night.
State law appears to give the state’s high court exclusive power to appoint judges to hear election day disputes, and would appear to prohibit judges from dealing with such election day issues in their own counties. It says, “The Supreme Court shall make judges available to hear disputes in the county in which the disputes occur, but no judge shall hear disputes in the district, subdistrict or county in which he was elected nor shall any judge hear any dispute in which any potential conflict may arise.”
Besides this, the state GOP petition says, “Chancery courts in this state do not have the jurisdiction to enjoin elections or to otherwise interfere with political and electoral matters which are not within the traditional reach of equity jurisdiction,” quoting precedence from a previous state case.
In its filing on election night, the state Democratic Party said a large number of precincts in Hinds County ran out of ballots, “leading to long lines, extensive delays and voters leaving the polling places without voting.” It said the problem was affecting the rights of all voters and that “the relieve sought in this case is a request in equity” which would give the chancery court jurisdiction.
This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.