The Mississippi Supreme Court ordered the Secretary of State to place Dr. Willie Wilson of Chicago on the Democratic Party Presidential primary ballot. The Court rejected an appeal by Secretary of State Dibbert Hosemann yesterday. Local attorney and Democratic party warhorse Sam Begley represented Dr. Wilson.
The February 25 opinion spells out the facts of the case quite succinctly:
Dr. Willie Wilson timely submitted his petition and qualification papers to the Mississippi State Democratic Executive Committee (the “Party”), to run for President in the 2016 Democratic primary. The Party rejected Dr. Wilson’s petition but later reconsidered and requested the Mississippi Secretary of State to place Dr. Wilson’s name on the primary ballot. But, because absentee and overseas military voting had already begun, the Secretary of State refused. The Circuit Court of Hinds County refused to grant Dr. Wilson an injunction and he appealed. Under the particular facts and circumstances of this case, we find that Dr. Wilson’s due process rights were violated, so we reverse and render....
Others who wish their names to appear on the primary ballots may file petitions with that party’s state executive committee between January 1 and January 15 of the presidential election year. Their petitions must be signed by a total of not less than five hundred (500) qualified electors of the
state, or . . . signed by not less than one hundred (100) qualified electors of each congressional district of the state.
Then, no more than two working days following the qualifying deadline—this year by January 19—the party must submit the names of qualified candidates to the Secretary of State to be added to the State’s electronic Statewide Election Management System.5 Rather than notifying Dr. Wilson prior to the January 19 deadline, the Party waited until 1:04 p.m. on January 20—one day after the deadline had passed—to notify him that his petition had been rejected. So, strictly applying the statutes without reading into them any grace period, the Party did not inform Dr. Wilson that he had not qualified until after the statutory deadline to submit his name had passed and he had lost the opportunity to timely contest the Party’s decision.
Three days later, absentee voting began, and the Secretary of State was required by federal law to have mailed ballots to members of the military overseas by that time.6 So, even had the Secretary of State ignored the January 19 deadline—again, for which Mississippi law provides no exception— Dr. Wilson had only from 1:04 p.m. on Wednesday, January 20, to some time on Friday, January 22, the day ballots were prepared and printed for distribution and mailing the following day, to have the Party correct its mistake and notify the Secretary of State that his name should be included on the ballot.
Oops. The party admitted it dropped the ball. The opinion spells out the mistake in even more detail:
Dr. Wilson’s name was not among those placed on the ballot by the Secretary of State as a candidate generally recognized throughout the United States or Mississippi. So, on January 14, 2016, he timely filed with the Mississippi Democratic Party a petition to have his name added to the ballot. His petition complied in every respect with Mississippi law. But on January 19—the statutory deadline for the Party to submit names of qualified candidates to the Secretary of State—the Party informed the Secretary of State that Dr. Wilson had not qualified.7 Rather than informing Dr. Wilson that same day that he had been rejected, the Party waited until 1:04 p.m. on the following day—January 20—to advise him that his petition had been rejected.
The very next day—Thursday—Dr. Wilson (a resident of Chicago, Illinois) located and retained an attorney who appealed to the Party to reconsider its incorrect decision. The party admitted its mistake to Dr. Wilson’s attorney on Monday, January 25—three days after the deadline to inform the Secretary of State to halt the presses and add Dr. Wilson’s name to the ballot.
However, the Secretary of State told the Democratic Party tough luck, we've already printed sample ballots and mailed out absentee ballots so we are going with what we already have.
The court replied back to the Secretary of State and Democratic Party that it was tough luck for them as well as Dr. Wilson's due process rights were violated. The Court ruled that the party denied him a "reasonable opportunity to present his case". The court further opined "granting due process after it is too late is not due process."
The court ordered the Secretary of State to place Dr. Wilson's name on all electronic voting machines and paper ballots to be used in the March 8 primary. Dr. Wilson waived any right to challenge military or absentee ballots. The court ruled that his name will not be placed on any absentee ballots.
The Secretary of State appealed the order. He argued absentee ballots were sent to voters and they had a right to vote on the corrected ballot. The court held:
We grant Dr. Wilson’s petition for interlocutory appeal and order the Secretary of State to add Dr. Wilson’s name to the electronic Statewide Election Management System, so that it may be made available through electronic voting machines for the Democratic primary on March 8. We also order that any voting precincts using paper ballots for the March 8 election prepare ballots that include Dr. Wilson as a candidate. However, Dr. Wilson’s name is not required to be added to any absentee ballots prepared or issued to voters. Finally, we accept Dr. Wilson’s express waiver of any right to challenge absentee ballots going forward. No motion for rehearing will be allowed and the Clerk of Court is directed immediately to issue the mandate.
Dr. Wilson, welcome to Mississippi.