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Suit challenges voting plan for district judges

A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of black voters challenges aplan next month’s elections when judges are to be chosen under anew “place” system instead of under the old “herd” method.

The lawsuit, filed late last week in U.S. District Court, seeksa temporary restraining order or injunction to hold the electionsin the 1st, 3rd, 6th, 12th, 13th and 18th chancery court districtsand the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 10th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 20thcircuit court districts under the current plan instead of a newmethod approved by state officials last year.

The suit challenges a law in which the “herd” system of electingjudges was removed in favor of a “place” system believed to allowvoters more control in the election process. Many districts havealready made the conversion to the “place” system, but somedistricts only recently adopted the election process.

In the “herd” system, all candidates ran on a single ballot andtwo receiving the most votes were elected. Under the “place”system, candidates must declare whether they are seeking the Place1 or Place 2 post and compete directly against their opponents.

The lawsuit, which presents only one side of a legal argument,alleges the new system of voting will disenfranchise blacks fromholding office in majority white districts.

Two area court contests could be affected if an injunction isgranted.

In the 14th District Circuit Court District, which includesLincoln, Pike and Walthall counties, incumbent Judge Mike Taylor,of Brookhaven, is unopposed in his bid for the Place One post. Hewas appointed in February 2005 when former Circuit Judge KeithStarrett was appointed as a federal judge.

Place Two incumbent Judge David Strong, of McComb, was appointedAug. 1 by Gov. Haley Barbour to finish the term of Judge MikeSmith, who retired in May. Strong will face one opponent, McCombattorney Michael Shareef, in the general election Nov. 7 in his bidto retain the Place Two job.

The 13th Chancery Court District includes Lawrence, Simpson,Jefferson Davis, Smith and Covington counties.

In that district, incumbent Place One Judge Larry Buffington, ofCollins, is unopposed in his re-election bid. Joe Dale Walker andDeborah Kennedy are competing for the new Place Two position.

The lawsuit was filed against the Mississippi State Board ofElection Commissioners and county officials in their capacities ascircuit clerks and election board members.

“The actions and inactions of the defendants … in approvingballots, printing ballots, scheduling and holding elections,requiring a majority vote for election, preventing single-shotvoting, and counting ballots utilizing the numbered post electionfeature” violate the rights of the citizens of the state, accordingto the suit.

Plaintiffs allege the change to the “place” system violatestheir Constitutional rights under the 14th amendment and the VotingRights Act of 1965.