Elections looming

By Philip Moulden

Daily Journal

While Tupelo is awaiting word on how and if city elections will proceed this spring, Lee County's seven other municipalities foresee no obstacles.

Tupelo is awaiting the approval of the state Legislature, or the courts, to escape a law that demands the city redistrict City Council ward lines according to 2000 census figures before it conducts its elections.

The trouble is, the census numbers aren't due until around April 1, making it impossible to meet the law's demands for the May 1 start of the election cycle.

But that law applies to only nine cities in the state.

All municipal governments on the state's code-charter system with an elected mayor and board of aldermen apparently won't be affected, although the threat of lawsuit is always present.

"We were told at our clerks association meeting in Jackson that the Mississippi Municipal League ... got a ruling for smaller towns that our wards and the lines that are there are OK for now," noted Verona City Clerk Julia Roebuck. "Right now, we're OK for the election."

What's the job

Lee County's cities and towns present a range of election options on which offices are up for grabs and how balloting will be run.

For instance, voters in two of the larger municipalities Baldwyn and Nettleton will not only elect a mayor and five aldermen, but city clerks and police chiefs.

Saltillo also has an elected police chief.

The other four cities and towns will elect only a mayor and aldermen. But they have their differences, too.

In Baldwyn, Nettleton and Verona, four aldermen are selected from separate wards while a fifth is picked citywide. That gives each voter a choice in two of the races (ward and at-large).

But in Guntown, Plantersville, Saltillo and Shannon, all aldermen are elected at-large. There, voters get to vote five times for aldermen, with the top five hopefuls winning the seats.

May or June?

Some municipalities also will effectively pick the winners in May's party primaries rather than the June general election. That's because they recognize only one party.

Others will not have a vote at all until June 5, the date of the general election, because they recognize no parties.

Baldwyn, Nettleton, Plantersville, Saltillo and Shannon will conduct primary elections May 1, but it will cover only Democrats. The Republican Party has not established an official presence in those jurisdictions, so there is no executive committee to conduct a primary.

"We've got a Democratic Party set up, but we don't have a Republican Party because nobody's asked for one," Shannon Town Clerk Mary Lee Helms said, summing up the situation for all.

For practical purposes, the winners will be determined May 1, or no later than May 15 if runoffs are necessary, in those municipalities.

There will still be a general election June 5 to confirm the primary picks, but in most cases only one name per office will appear on the ballot.

While there is a possibility of candidates qualifying as independents and moving directly to the June 5 ballot to challenge the Democratic nominees, that rarely happens, election observers said.

"Everybody runs as a Democrat," longtime Nettleton City Clerk Bill Tapscott said. "Everybody's been elected in the primary since I've been here. In the general election only one name's (been) on there."

On the other hand, in Guntown and Verona there are no parties, and thus no primaries. Everybody runs as an independent.

Candidates will face only one election, on June 5, and those with the highest counts win.

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