Four vie for election commission post

Published 6:12 pm Friday, October 29, 2010

Competition abounds on the local level in one race on thisyear’s general election ballot, with a handful of candidates vyingfor a low-profile office that is usually nailed down by theincumbent.

Four candidates from Lincoln County’s District Three are attemptingto gain the people’s trust and join the commission, eager to takeon the challenge of election-running and poll book-cleansing.

The race is a special election, set up by the death of commissionerBennon Case, who died at age 75 in June while serving his secondterm.

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“It’s fairly common when you have an open office for several peopleto decice to throw their hats in the ring,” said Lincoln CountyCircuit Clerk Terry Lynn Watkins. “A lot of people, for whateverreasons, choose not to run until an office becomes vacant.”

For the people of southeast Lincoln County, the candidates’grouping will make up the largest item on the Nov. 2 ballot, andtheirs will be the only contested local race this year. Only votersin District Three may participate in the election commissionerrace.

Norfield’s Gloria Brown, Brookhaven’s Barbara Davis, Ruth’s RachelCole Gatlin and Enterprise’s Mike Walley are seeking thecommissionership.

Brown, 52, was born and raised in Bogue Chitto, now living on LeeDrive near Norfield. A former Delphi worker who took the buyout,she went back to school at Copiah-Lincoln Community College andbecame a certified nursing assistant and is now a private sitter.Her husband, Carl, is a retired state trooper and they attendNorfield Bethel Baptist Church.

Brown is quite comfortable in this campaign – not only has she beeninvolved in elections since being encouraged by the late ShermanMoak at age 20, it’s her second time running for the office. Sheunsuccessfully challenged the late incumbent in 2008.

As a longtime Democrat who’s served in all positions as a pollworker, Brown loves the election process. That’s why she wants toserve on the commission.

“You get involved in the election – that’s what I like,” she said.”I’m a people person, and working at the poll you get to meeteverybody, conversate with everybody and get to know them. You getto make sure the election is accurate and fair.”

There are a few changes that need to be made to the county’selection process, Brown said. Chief among those ispunctuality.

“Voting materials are supposed to be back at the courthouse at acertain time, and some of them are taking hours and hours,” shesaid. “It shouldn’t take that long to get back. With the machines,it’s not a big thing to get it set up, not a big thing to shut itdown.”

Brown doesn’t believe voter fraud is a problem in Lincoln County,but regardless she supports voter ID – as long as elderly votersare taken care of during its implementation.

“I don’t think voter ID is a bad thing, but I think a lot ofelderly people would be scared to come vote,” she said. “They don’tlike change, and that’s a drastic change. It wouldn’t be a problemfor the young people.”

Davis hails from McNair Avenue in the city. The 55-year-old is theowner of Davis Design, a design and advertising company she’smanaged since 1979. She was born and raised in Brookhaven and was amember of the first women’s tennis team at Mississippi StateUniversity. She attends the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer.

She’s also no stranger to politics. Though this is her first timeto seek an office, Davis has worked on several local and stateRepublican campaigns since 1989, including those of John Roberts,U.S. Congressman Gregg Harper and former Gov. Kirk Fordice.

Twenty years of campaigning and working election nights are whatled Davis to run for the commission. She claims to have seen plentyof problems along the way, like the names of deceased voters listedin the books at polling places.

“I’m really concerned about voter fraud,” she said. “At some pointduring those elections, I became aware of the voter registrationlists and how outdate they are. I’ve looked in the voterregistration book for my area several times over the last fewyears, and I’ve seen some inconsistencies.”

Davis is a proponent of photographic voter ID. She says votingidentification is necessary to combat dishonesty.

“If you don’t have honest poll managers, an election can be easilyswayed by bringing in non-registered voters who can sign in andpunch away,” she said. “Who’s going to know?”

Davis said voters should back her at the polls on Nov. 2 becauseshe’s committed to cleaning up the roll books and making sure eachvote counts. She also encouraged everyone to vote, whether theyvote for her or not.

“It’s time for us to start taking notice of every election.Election commissioners are at the heart of every election in thiscountry. It starts at home,” she said.

Gatlin, 57, descends from an old family in the Ruth community onCole Drive. A longtime homemaker born in Greenville, S.C., butraised her whole life in Lincoln County, she spends much of hertime now keeping up with her husband, Mark, and doting on a slew ofgrandchildren. She attends Pleasant Hill Baptist Church.

Her father – the late Harry Cole, a former Enterprise teacher -raised the family to be politically aware, and Gatlin has worked onelections and in precincts as a Republican for 25 years. She isconcerned about voter fraud, and she wants to counter it with moretraining for the poll workers.

Gatlin said saw the need for increased training while working theOle Brook Precinct in 2008, where a record crowd caused generalconfusion.

“I’m really concerned about the way our elections are run sometimesand the training of our poll workers,” she said. “A lot of themdon’t have enough training, and with the (voting) machines, votersand workers are confused.”

It’s frustrating when poll workers ask the same questions over andover again during training, Gatlin said, and some are timid aboutconfronting people who break the rules on voting day. More trainingwould give poll workers the confidence to keep things undercontrol, she said.

Voter fraud isn’t as big a problem as poll worker training, Gatlinsaid, though she claims to have seen plenty of deceased peoplestill on the rolls in Ruth. Still, she supports voter ID.

And she likes her chances on Nov. 2.

“I’m in it to win it, and I think I can do a good job,” she said.”I have experience with the election process, and I want to helpother people understand the process, too.”

Walley is a member of the Enterprise community. The 60-year-old isa former offshore worker who spends most of his time running”paw-paw’s daycare,” looking after two young granddaughters. Thoughborn in Laurel, Walley has called Busby Trail home for 34 years.He’s a member of the Brookhaven Exchange Club and attends NorthviewBaptist Church.

For Walley, a Democrat, the decision to run for electioncommissioner came in late August, when he learned that no one hadqualified to run for the office after Case’s death. He’s longentertained the idea of running for higher offices, like countysupervisor or state representative, but this year’s race is hisfirst experience with campaigning.

Voter fraud is real and it’s happening in Lincoln County, Walleysaid, and he’s focused on aggressively updating the county’s voterregistration.

“That hasn’t been done in a long time,” Walley said. “Someone needsto represent us, and I think I can do a good job.”

Walley also supports voter ID and dismissed the notion thatrequiring such proof would violate voting rights or intimidatevoters.

“It keeps someone from going down to the graveyard, getting a nameand voting for them,” he said. “Why would it bother you to show whoyou are?”

Walley believes his chances for winning the election are good, buthe won’t lose sleep over it either way.

“If the Lord wants me to have it, I’ll have it,” he said. “If Hedon’t, I won’t. I’d like to have it and see how I do for a term,and if the people aren’t satisfied with me, they can put me out ofthere.”