Diamondhead election faces challenge
By Dwayne Bremer
Jun 28, 2013, 18:14
A former candidate in Diamondhead's councilman-at-large race has filed a challenge of the June 4 election, claiming he was improperly taken off the ballot.
Ken Overstreet, who qualified as a candidate in the Constitutional Party, was taken off the ballot a few days prior to the election.
On June 4, Ernie Knobloch won the councilman-at-large race. Overstreet, who was not on the ballot, received about 100 write-in votes.
"It was humiliating," Overstreet said Friday. "I spent money campaigning and time going to the functions only to have them sneak me off the ballot a week before the election."
On June 10, Overstreet filed an election challenge at the Hancock County Circuit Clerk's Office asking for a new election.
Overstreet, who had previously run for county and state offices as a Constitutional party candidate, qualified on March 8.
According to his challenge, Overstreet said he was notified on May 21 that the secretary of state's office had directed the city to remove all Constitutional party candidates from the ballot.
Calls to the Constitutional party headquarters in Jackson were not returned by press time Friday.
A letter written by attorney Jerry Mills--who represents the city-- to the Diamondhead election commission on May 24, advised that Overstreet should be taken off the ballot.
Mills said, among other things, that since the Constitutional party did not have an executive committee set up in the city, Overstreet was not able to be placed on the ballot.
Mills said that parties which don't have city executive committees can allow the county executive committee to act on its behalf, but there was no such documentation stating the Hancock County Constitutional party was doing so.
In the letter, Mills also pointed to an unpublished attorney general's opinion on the matter, for another reason why Overstreet should be taken off the ballot.
Pam Weaver, the press secretary of Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, said Friday that her office believes Overstreet was not a properly qualified candidate.
"Mr. Overstreet did not qualify as a candidate," Weaver said. "He filed a statement of intent and filing fee to run for municipal office on behalf of the Constitutional Party. By law, a municipal executive committee must exist as of the qualifying deadline, so that the clerk can forward the filed materials to the party committee. An Attorney General Opinion goes farther, stating that the committee must make itself known to the clerk in writing by the deadline. That did not occur in Diamondhead, either. It is then the party committee’s responsibility to actually qualify the candidate. No Diamondhead Constitutional executive committee appears to have been in existence by the March 8 deadline. The Secretary of State's Office has been told the municipal clerk and the election commissioners attempted to locate Mr. Overstreet or someone else with the Constitutional Party, but it is our understanding those efforts were unsuccessful."
Overstreet said the city "selectively enforced" the law and the attorney general's opinion to keep him off the ballot.
He pointed to the fact that the Republican party does not have an executive committee in the city and its candidates were allowed to be on the ballot.
"What would it have hurt to keep me on the ballot and let the voters decide?" Overstreet said. "There were several Independent candidates in the race. I think they just wanted to silence third-party candidates. They made a lot of efforts to stop signs and they did everything they could to cover up election coverage and political speech."
No hearing date has been set for Overstreet's challenge.
Overstreet said he will represent himself at the hearing.
In an unrelated complaint, the Diamondhead Election Commission on Thursday dismissed a complaint which alleged bribery in last month's mayoral race.
Earlier this month, the commission received a complaint from a citizen who alleged he had possession of an audio tape of a supporter of Tommy Schafer offering a job to candidate John Fletcher, commission attorney Bragg Williams said Thursday.
Per state law, the commission held a hearing Thursday to investigate the complaint, Williams said.
Williams said the complaint alleged the job offer violated section 23-15-873 of the Mississippi Code.
"The commission takes any complaint very seriously and we are bound to look into it," Commission Chairman Lou Fuchs said Thursday.
Fuchs said the commission also invited the district attorney's office to the hearing to see if there was probable cause for prosecution.
Williams said the person who filed the complaint was notified of the hearing, however, the complainant informed Williams Thursday that he would not be attending.
Prior to Thursday's hearing, the citizen who filed the complaint delivered to the commission an envelope which contained an apparent audio disk.
Neither, the man who filed the complaint nor Fletcher were not present at the commission's hearing.
Williams asked the commission if it wanted to go into executive session to listen to the disk, but commissioners said they had concerns about the authenticity of the disk.
"There is no authentication," Commissioner Don Hopes said. "We don't know who made this disk, when it was made, where it was made, and if one of the parties knew they were being recorded."
Hopes moved to dismiss the case.
"I think this is frivolous," he said. "I think it's a shame that an individual feels something like this has taken place and they cannot come to the commission and speak."
The commission voted 3-0 to dismiss the complaint. Williams said a complete record of the hearing was made in case of any future actions on the complaint.
Schafer had previously denied any knowledge of any of his supporters offering Fletcher a job.