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It’s hard to believe that another round of county elections are looming and I predict we are going to see some changes. More candidates seeking county offices are contemplating qualifying as independents instead of running on a party ticket. Sheriff Jerimaine Gooch has already made the decision to run as an independent in the 2023 election.
Gone are the days when every candidate in the county puts their name on the Democratic ballot and the elections are settled during the August primary. This change probably started back during the 1993 election when Democratic Governor Ronnie Musgrove lost his bid for re-election against Republican challenger Haley Barbour. Since then every statewide office has shifted to a Republican, with Attorney General Jim Hood the last holdout. Hood was defeated in the 2019 election after a strong run for governor against Tate Reeves.
During the 29 years since Musgrove’s defeat, we continued to see candidates seeking county offices in our area run on the Democratic ticket, although a few Republican challengers would surface. The majority of voters would routinely vote Democrat for the local office-holders during the August primary and vote for Republicans seeking state offices in the November General Election.
In Yalobusha County, we saw a shift during the 2019 election after almost 500 voters cast a ballot in the Republican Primary in August.
In previous elections, there were only a handful of voters in the county who voted in the Republican Primary. That 2019 shift changed the outcome in the Democratic Primary – several incumbents narrowly won re-election in the primary in Yalobusha and neighboring counties, while other longtime incumbents lost outright in the primary.
The 2019 election year also marked the first time an independent sheriff candidate was elected in the county. Mark D. Fulco ran as an independent and defeated Democratic nominee Luther G. Folson, Jr. in the November General Election. District Two Justice Court Judge Trent Howell also won as an independent candidate.
Partisan politics at the national level are driving this change at the local level. Sadly voters put less emphasis on a candidate’s qualifications and focus more on party affiliation.
This will create a different atmosphere for candidates to navigate in the upcoming election year. The hotly contested county races may shift from the August primaries to the November General Election. Independent candidates do not run in the primary and are on the ballot in November.
Back in the days when all county candidates ran on the Democratic ticket, a hotly contested race with multiple candidates would be settled in a runoff. In the first round, the top two vote getters would advance to the runoff and one candidate would receive a majority of votes (50 percent plus one). There is no runoff in the General Election for county candidates.
Let’s look at a possible scenario for next year. We could have a county position with a Democratic candidate, a Republican candidate and several independent candidates. The candidates nominated from the party primaries in August will advance to face independent candidates in the November General Election. For county races, this is a winner-take-all scenario. If there are five candidates on the ballot (for example a Republican nominee, Democratic nominee and three independent candidates), the person with the most votes wins the election outright. Following this example, let’s say it is a tight race and all five candidates receive close to 20 percent of the votes. One of the five candidates could win the election with just over 20 percent of the vote – hardly a strong statement.
Ironically candidates will have less time in the coming year to decide how they will run. This year candidates will have from January 3 until February 1 to submit qualifying paperwork to run for office. In past elections candidates had a full two months qualify with the deadline extending until the first week in March.
This means in only two months, the dust will settle on who is running for office and how they will be labeled. Stayed tuned and we will see!