TUPELO – A candidate for legislative office in Northeast Mississippi has discovered errors in local election records that will likely end her campaign.
Beth Luther Waldo qualified for state Senate as a Republican this year, with the Pontotoc Circuit Clerk’s office reporting that her home residence was located in Senate District 8.
Turns out, that’s not true.
The mistake dates back some years. During 2015 state and county elections, Waldo cast a ballot for the District 8 senate race.
Pontotoc Circuit Clerk Melinda Nowicki said multiple voters received inaccurate ballot styles during 2015 legislative races and that the mistake was not detected until Waldo brought the matter to light.
“It was human error,” Nowicki said.
Even though she has been told that she may enter the District 3 race, where she does live, Waldo is leaning toward withdrawing her candidacy altogether.
“I’m 99.9 percent certain that this is just over for me,” Waldo said. “I really, really connected with the people of District 8.”
Highway 9 in Pontotoc County forms the boundary between two state Senate districts for a span, with the south side of the road in District 8 and the north side of the road in District 3.
Those district lines were created when the legislature redistricted in 2012 and approved new boundaries for Senate and House districts.
But Nowicki said local circuit clerks are responsible for ensuring voters are sorted correctly.
“When they send us those maps, they do not send an address range. They do not say, on Highway 9 this house number is this district,” Nowicki said.
Instead, Nowicki said the office consults with 911 emergency response to determine which side of the street the odd and even numbers are.
“Then someone has to physically go into the file and input it,” Nowicki said.
In the 2015 general election, Nowicki said 50 District 3 residents were in error given ballots for District 8. Those 50 voters were not in a position to change the outcome of any election. The District 3 incumbent won re-election with a comfortable margin of thousands of votes. In District 8, the incumbent was unopposed for re-election.
District 8 incumbent Sen. Russell Jolly, a Democrat, is retiring from elected office. Waldo was among four Republican candidates to submit qualifying papers for the race. There are three Democrats in the race.
District 8 includes, in part or whole, Calhoun, Chickasaw, Lee, Pontotoc and Yalobusha counties.
In the District 3 race, incumbent Sen. Nickey Browning, a Republican is retiring. Four Republicans and one Democrat are in the race to replace him.
District 3 includes, in part or whole, Benton, Pontotoc and Union counties.
Before she qualified, Waldo said she made an effort to locate high quality maps of the district but initially found maps that were not sufficiently detailed to be helpful.
“I called to the Secretary of State and I complained, I’ve got to have a readable map,” Waldo said.
Later, Waldo eventually obtained better-quality maps available online through the Mississippi Automated Resource Information System.
Legislative district maps are not readily available through any other sources.
“I usually take defeat pretty well, but this was really hard,” Waldo said.