January 27, 2017
The U.S. Southern District Court issued an opinion and order this evening denying attempts to dismiss the lawsuit filed by five voters who allege that the Mississippi House of Representatives "intentionally discarding their ballots to change the outcome of the election," the order states.
In the order, United States District Judge Carlton Reeves wrote that the State of Mississippi's three attempts to dismiss the case, citing the intention behind the disqualification of the votes of plaintiffs Billie Faye Keyes, Joshua Allen, Courtney Rena Fortune, Karli Ford Matthews and Shelton S. Matthews.
"Taking these allegations as true, as the Court must at this stage, they state a claim that defendants intentionally treated plaintiffs differently from others voting by affidavit ballot, and there was no rational basis for the disparate treatment beyond an impermissible desire to alter the outcome of the election," Reeves' order states.
The late 2015 District 79 race between incumbent Representative Blaine Eaton, D-Taylorsville, and challenger Mark Tullos. The race ended in a tie, one that was broken through the implementation of an antiquated state law that demanded the two draw straws, which they did in a ceremony Nov. 20, 2015 in front of the governor and other state officials, and Eaton emerged victorious.
Tulles challenged the results, and a majority-Republican special committee was convened.
The Jackson Free Press reported the decision of the committee, to throw out some votes, ending the tie and handing the seat to Tullos.
"The House relied on the special election committee's report and testimony from Baker that five of the affidavit ballots should have been disqualified because voters violated a part of Mississippi law that requires voters to notify their county clerk if they move more than 30 days before an election," the JFP reported. "After two days of testimony from "five or six" witnesses, the House special election committee voted 4-1 to disqualify five of the affidavit ballots counted in the District 79 race, which was decided in November by drawing straws, as state law requires. By disqualifying five votes, the race was not technically a tie because, Baker said, even if the remaining four votes were for Eaton, Mark Tullos, the Republican challenger, would have won by one vote."
Reeves, as expressed in his opinion, disagrees. The judge instructed both sides to move forward with the trial, beginning with contacting the magistrate judge to coordinate the next stage.