At their July 7 meeting, the Clay County Board of Supervisors declined to intervene in a dispute among election commissioners and fielded a question from Dr. Johnnie Rasberry about inmate voting.
The election commissioners were on hand to ask the supervisors to revise a policy governing when and how commissioners could work. Election Commissioner Wendy Fuller came to the board of supervisors June 6 and asked them to approve a policy requiring a quorum of commissioners to be present to work, and mandating that all work at the courthouse be done during business hours. Fuller said that the election commissioners had met and approved these guidelines; the law requires that the supervisors then approve them also.
The election commissioners appeared at the supervisors’ July 7 meeting, and several of them questioned the new policy.
“It was said that (Chancery Clerk Robbie Robinson, District 5 Supervisor Floyd McKee and District 3 Supervisor RB Davis) didn’t want us in the courthouse after business hours,” said Election Commissioner Linda Ivy. “We just want to know if there was a complaint.”
“My personal opinion on that is that we need to try to do the work within the hours of the day that the courthouse is a public place,” Davis said. “It’s for security reasons. We don’t want someone up here when the building’s closed and have something happen that’s out of place. It’s for y’all’s protection.”
“The doors are locked,” Ivy said. “We are in the circuit clerk’s office. I’ve never felt afraid or anything.”
“What you’re referring to is a board order that is as a result of a decision by the election commissioners on May 22,” Robinson said. “They requested that the board of supervisors institute a policy that all commissioners work during the hours of the courthouse. I can’t speak for the board, but I’ve seen this board in action and I know how they feel, but they’re going to do what your board recommends. I think the issue is between you and your board. You need to be on the same track as to what’s going to happen.”
“If I come in at 3 o’clock and I’m doing my work, I’m entitled to my five hours of work,” Ivy said. [Election commissioners are paid for 5-hour work days. – Brian Jones] “Why would I have to leave at five? I won’t get in my five hours. I’m doing my work. I understand what the board did. They know that my son is a home-schooler. My son don’t get home until 3. I’m waiting so that when he gets in there’s somebody at the house. I’m going to do my job in my district. I’m an elected official and I’m going to stand up for District 1.”
“I think this argument needs to be conducted up there in your meeting,” Robinson said.
“We just came down here because we want an explanation from you all as to why,” said Election Commissioner Jessie Ivy.
“It was our understanding that a quorum was three of the five, and that that was what a quorum of the election commissioners had voted on,” said District 2 Supervisor Luke Lummus. “If they want to change that, they can go back to their board and change the policy and hand it down to us.”
“Under the statute an election commissioner can work 2.5 hours and receive half a day’s pay,” interjected Election Commissioner Wendy Fuller. “If, after you’re elected, your priority is not to do the five hours, you can do 2.5 so it just takes you two days. So I don’t see what the problem is.”
“Is there any way you can change that so she can come in–” asked District 1 Supervisor Lynn Horton.
“No,” Fuller said, cutting him off. “When we are elected, we are elected to serve so that we work during court hours and with the circuit clerk. She has two hours to work every day. She can just work two days, and it’s the same thing but it takes just a couple of more days. If it’s an emergency or a temporary situation, we will be understanding because we do have emergencies. This is not temporary, nor is it an emergency. This is permanent and we are not willing to change it.”
“You don’t speak for the whole board,” Linda Ivy said, speaking over Fuller. “I’ve got over 200 people that are inactive. I put them there, I want to find them before I purge them. That’s my duty. I have no problem working with any of those commissioners. If they have other things to do, I understand. You have to understand my position. I’m elected, too, just like we all are. I pledged to do my duty until I get unvoted. I understand the safety issue, and I appreciate that. But I plan to do my duty.”
The board took no action.
Dr. Johnnie Rasberry, head of the Clay County NAACP, appeared to question the board about inmate voting.
“I spoke to (Circuit Clerk) Bob Harrell about registering inmates who are eligible to vote,” Rasberry said. “We’re concerned that many of our people who are incarcerated and eligible to vote don’t know it. We hope that the board will be interested in working with us and possibly the sheriff’s department in registering these people to vote. There are 10 offenses that disenfranchise a person from voting. I think the attorney general in 2005 added an additional 11 to that, but the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a complaint and that’s still being considered. What we’re concerned about is that these young people need the community and a lot of times they don’t get involved in the community. Voting is one of the main rights we have in the United States where people can participate in the democratic process. A greater effort needs to be made.
“There is a serious racial impact,” he said. “One out of every eight African-American adults in Mississippi is barred from voting. Though African-Americans are about one-third of the voting population, they are about two-thirds of the people who are disenfranchised. African-Americans make up 75% of the prison population. We would like you to consider working with us to get education programs so we can inform these young men of the importance of voting and of their rights. A lot of times they don’t know that they are eligible to vote. Sometimes they get in trouble before they even register.”
“Who would be responsible for registering them?” Horton asked.
“If the board would agree to work with us we would set up a committee to get information out and get with the sheriff’s department,” Rasberry said.
Chief Deputy Eddie Scott said the process is already underway.
“Right now we’re already drafting a letter to send requesting applications for each inmate and trustee,” Scott said. “That’s already in the works. In the past the sheriff has always ensured that anyone who wanted to vote could vote.
“We get the applications together and send the information to circuit clerk, and they make the determination on whether they can vote,” Scott added.
“One of the things that we’re very concerned about is that a lot of those guys think if they were caught with a small amount of drugs that they can’t register,” Rasberry said. “We want to get them some education on that.”