COLUMBUS, Ga. – One week before the local May 24 primary election day, the Muscogee County sheriff candidates find themselves in limbo. Republican candidate Mark LaJoye and Democratic candidate Donna Tompkins appealed their disqualifications to Superior Court Monday. So here’s where the candidates stand.
A non-partial judge from Tifton heard the two candidates’ pleas to battle their way back onto next week’s ballot. Now LaJoye and Tompkins are faced with three decisions the judge can make:
- Uphold the Muscogee County Election Board’s disqualification
- Place the candidates back on the ballot within five days, which would make the ballot for the May 24 primary
- Hold a separate primary election in which all four previously disqualified candidates can all re-run for sheriff
Attorney Mark Shelnutt represents LaJoye and formerly represented former Democratic sheriff candidate Pam Brown. He says despite the outcome of the appeal process, which has gone on for the better part of two months, no one can ignore the situation.
“Four out of four candidates on the primary ballot all disqualified? Something’s not right,” Shelnutt said. “So I really do think we’ll see some changes in the law come.”
Shelnutt spells out his argument to the judge, saying that the election board was not specific enough when challenging his client’s qualifications.
“We argued that we had complied with certainly the spirit of that statute, that they have everything that they need,” Shelnutt explained.
Tompkins’ attorney Ken Henson, Jr. did not offer a statement on camera. However, he believes his candidate is entitled to her candidacy because she did what was required of her by the elections board. Brown opens up about the struggle each of the four candidates is facing in the race to become sheriff.
“Apparently, there’s someone in the system that’s looking for reasons to have us disqualified,” brown said. “That’s just my personal belief. Because they’re asking much more of us in this election than they did in 2012.”
A lot of the changes are derived from a Georgia statute enacted in 2013, asking for further qualification requirements from candidates.
“I’m hoping he goes toward the special election, because that will give us the opportunity to get back on the ballot,” Brown continued. “That will be great for myself, Robert Smith, Donna Tompkins, and Mark LaJoye.”
Brown is now running as an independent. She says she had to cancel filing paperwork as a Democratic candidate in order to run as an independent. She, along with incumbent Muscogee Sheriff John Darr, have until July to register as independent candidates for the November ballot.
The Muscogee County Board of Elections Chair Nancy Boren tells News 3 the board is choosing not to comment until the judge makes a ruling, which should come later this week.