Constitutionality of Felons on Ballot Questioned - - Jackson, MS

Jackson 08/09/07

Constitutionality of Felons on Ballot Questioned

By Cheryl Lasseter

Back in May, Adams County Circuit Clerk M.L. "Binkey" Vines pleaded guilty to three counts of embezzlement. The attorney general's office dropped ten of the counts against him. Vines was placed on "unsupervised good behavior" for a year and ordered to pay more than $40,000 in fees. He did not have to serve any jail time and was allowed to remain in office.

Vines was on Tuesday's ballot for re-election, and he's now in a run-off.

In July, Jefferson County Circuit Clerk Burnell Harris was convicted of nine counts of embezzlement, money laundering and tax evasion. Harris is awaiting two things: his sentencing in October, and his runoff for re-election.

"It's wrong for both of them to be there, and they ought to be removed from office," says Edwin Pittman, former Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice.  Pittman points to the 44th section of the Mississippi Constitution, which states:

"No person shall be eligible to a seat.... to any office of profit or trust, who shall have been convicted of bribery, perjury, or other infamous crime."

Vines' case was heard buy Judge Joe Webster, the same judge who heard Jackson Mayor Frank Melton's criminal case in April.

"I know not why Judge Webster decided not to remove him from office," Pittman said, "but I can tell you that I don't think it was a choice that Judge Webster can make, because the Constitution is clear. It's specific.

"All of us have to be concerned, and I think incensed, that we have two people who have been convicted of crimes, that we allow them to run for office and serve in office," Pittman continued. "The Constitution does not allow it."

Pittman also says the executive committees of the candidates' parties should have taken them off the ballot. The State Democratic Committee says if either person was convicted after he qualified to be on the ballot, it might fall under the Secretary of State's purview. 

Secretary of State Eric Clark called WLBT News after our story aired. He says the matter would not fall under the purview of his office, and his staff will immediately begin looking into the situation.

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