Controversy swirls within Democratic Party leadership on the state and local levels concerning a recent decision by Mary Mancini, chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, to remove candidate M. LaTroy Alexandria-Williams from the ballot in the District 9 congressional race against Rep. Steve Cohen.
Norma Lester, the senior Democrat on the Shelby County Election Commission, and Lexie Carter, chairperson of the Shelby County Primary Board, have both been vocal about their dissatisfaction. They blame Mancini.
“This gentleman was given less than 24 hours to respond before the filing deadline,” Lester said. “And as such he did not receive notification. And this resulted in his lack of due process and that’s what has us fuming.”
Williams has filed an injunction in Chancery Court to prevent his name from being removed from the ballot and a hearing is set for April 30. Mancini did not return numerous calls to her office and had not been reached for comment by TSD press deadline Wednesday night.
Williams linked the dispute to a lawsuit filed against him four years ago. That involved his use of ballots and has been settled, he said.
“I only want what is fair and equitable,” he said.
Williams said Mancini told state and local party officials that the previous legal matter still was active and used that information as part of the basis for taking him off of the ballot.
“Even if those lawsuits were still active, it wouldn’t have anything to do with me being on the ballot,” he said. “She also told them I had helped the Republican Party but they pulled the record and found out I had voted in the Democratic Party 30 straight times in the last 40 years.”
The bylaws say a bona fide Democrat has to have voted Democrat three out of the last five elections.
Lester and Carter said they have received numerous complaints from voters and elected officials. Carter is hosting a public meeting of the Primary Board at 7 Thursday night to protest the action and make a formal request of a judge. The meeting will be held at IBEW 1870 Madison.
“The concern for me as an election commissioner is I am appointed to insure the integrity of the voting process and the integrity of the voter’s rights and in this particular case it was very concerning to me because his rights were violated,” Lester said in an interview with The New Tri-State Defender.
“When I found out about it I immediately sent an e-mail to Lexie Carter of the Primary Board and she was just livid,” Lester said.
The Primary board filters complaints and vets candidates to make sure they are bona fide Democrats.
“When Mr. Williams called Lexie Carter she told him to ignore that, that it wasn’t true, that if he was being de-bona fide she would know. Well, unfortunately it was true,” Lester said.
Lester said Mancini sent a notification letter to the Shelby County administrator of elections, Linda Philips.
“Even though it came in time, before the 12 o’clock deadline, Linda Phillips didn’t see it because she was busy,” Lester said. “It was early voting (for the May 1 Primary).”
Phillips eventually sent the letter to the Democratic Party commissioners and the chair, but Lester said she didn’t read her e-mail in time.
“We were both just concerned that this just happened out of the clear blue sky with no indication, no warning, no knowledge that he was under investigation or that there was a complaint voiced or anything,” Lester said. “She sent him an e-mail request sometime on the evening of the 11th. Well the deadline to get the request in to us was noon on the 12th.”
Another candidate who was on the list to be de- bona fide saw his e-mail and acted quickly and was able to get the decision overturned. Williams apparently was one of two candidates that did not get their notifications in time to avoid being removed.
“They only way he can be put on the ballot now is through the courts. A judge could mandate that and we (the election commission) would,” said Lester.
“No one is questioning the state Democratic Party chairman’s ability to (have a candidate de- bona fide),” Lester said. “What people are questioning is her doing it without affording the candidate due process.”
Carter said she did “a pretty thorough research of everything that happened,” acknowledging that at one point she had assured Williams that he had not been de- bona fide because “I wasn’t aware of it.”
Carter said she later talked to Mancini.
“It became apparent to me pretty quick that there was something that just wasn’t right about it,” she said. “I couldn’t get an accurate description of what he had done. The information that I heard from people who actually served on the Executive Committee and what they had been told by Ms. Mancini didn’t jive with what I got from her in writing and what she indicated was a problem.”