PRINCETON — The Gibson County Board of Elections meets at 10 a.m. Friday at the Gibson County North Annex building's meeting room to hear information and make a decision regarding an eligibility challenge to the candidacy of a Princeton municipal primary contender.
Nick Burns filed a petition of candidacy Friday morning in the Republican primary for Princeton's Common Council at-large seat, currently held by Republican Greg Wright. Wright filed as a GOP candidate in the Princeton mayoral primary Friday.
Gibson County GOP Chairman C.T. Montgomery filed the challenge to Burns' eligibility to appear on the GOP nomination ballot Friday, and a date was set for the election board to hear the matter.
The three-person election board membership includes the Gibson County Clerk and one member nominated by the Democrat and Republican county party chairs. County Clerk Jim Morrow serves as secretary and voting member. Charles Mayfield, the Democratic appointee, serves as president of the election board and Jim Clark, the Republican appointee, is vice president.
Gibson County Voter Registration Office clerk Leather Vore confirmed that Alan Stackhouse will serve as a proxy for Clark, who will be unable to attend Friday's meeting.
Vore and voter registration clerk Georgia Straw accepted the candidate petitions during the Jan. 9-Feb. 8 filing period for the Princeton municipal election.
Vore said the challenge to Burns' eligibility as a Republican candidate was filed by Gibson County GOP Chairman C.T. Montgomery. She said candidacy challenges can be filed by party chairmen, other candidates or registered voters.
Party affiliation in primary elections is generally determined by how a potential candidate voted in the last primary election. In Burns' case, said Vore, the precinct poll book shows that he signed his name to vote but the party ballot that he called for was not recorded. Vore said the failure to designate the ballot was a poll worker error.
She said Burns' position is that to his knowledge, he pulled a GOP ballot.
When party affiliation is an issue, a potential candidate can seek permission from the county political party chair. Vore said Montgomery did not agree to sign off on Burns' candidacy as a Republican, and Burns proceeded to file as a GOP candidate by the noon Feb. 8 deadline.
Vore said that at Friday's election board meeting, members will hear the challenge and Burns will have the opportunity to rebut the challenge before the board makes a decision.
The last eligibility challenge in a Gibson County election happened in 2015, when Gibson County Democratic Pary Chairman Cecil "Bob" Allen challenged the residency eligibility of Oakland City Common Council at-large member-elect Kelly J. Besing.
That case outcome was determined in Gibson Circuit Court, when Judge Jeffrey Meade ruled that evidence showed Besing's residency was not proven. Democrat incumbent Mark Broshears, who lost the election to Besing by six votes, was declared the winner.
The last Princeton municipal election where party affiliation was a question happened in 2003, when sitting Princeton Common Council District 3 member Hazel Meuser, the lone Republican on the city council, made a bid for the Clerk-Treasurer's office.
The Daily Clarion reported in 2003 that Meuser said she was encouraged by Mayor Shirley Robb, a Democrat, to seek the Clerk-Treasurer position as a Democrat. Meuser announced her candidacy as a Democrat before learning of a relatively new state law that required her to first gain permission from then-Democrat Party Chairman Charles Mayfield to run on the Democrat slate. Permission was denied, and Meuser said she bucked GOP advice to try to retain her council seat, and filed as a Republican for Clerk-Treasurer. She was defeated in the May primary by Republican candidate Jayne Deckard by a 155-42 vote.
In that same year's municipal elections, The Daily Clarion reported that Democrat candidate Robert Hurst won the primary bid as the candidate to compete for Meuser's seat on the council. Hurst served on the council and was appointed mayor at following Robb's death, then elected and re-elected. He was defeated by incumbent Mayor Brad Schmitt four years ago in the general election, and is a Democratic primary candidate for mayor this year. Democrat common council member J.B. Brines, also a primary candidate for mayor this year, did not seek re-election in the 2003 primary, and later became a city employee. The District 1 Common Council seat was a three-way race for the Democratic party nomination that year, with Chris Ziller winning the nomination over Jan Ballard and Larry Burns. Ballard later was elected to that seat, and is seeking re-election unopposed thus far this year.