Jeffrey George, who represents Ward 1 on Hattiesburg City Council, has filed suit against his challenger in the upcoming municipal election, alleging Ken Chambers does not meet the residency qualifications required to run for city office.
According to the suit, which was filed Feb. 26, Chambers, a Democrat, has not been a resident of the City of Hattiesburg or Ward 1 for the required two years preceding the day of the primary election, which will be held April 6. Furthermore, the suit states that Chambers was not, at the time he qualified for the election – nor is he currently – a resident of Hattiesburg or Ward 1.
The suit states that according to the Mississippi Statewide Election Management System, on June 2, 2020, Chambers changed his address of residence to 8 Edna Drive, which is in Lamar County outside of the city limits of Hattiesburg. Additionally, Chambers voted in the November 2020 United States general election using that same address.
The suit also states that on April 23, 2020, Chambers formed a Limited Liability Company named Stonerock Monuments & Signs with the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office using the address of 8 Edna Drive.
On Dec. 8, 2020, Chambers switched his voter registration from 8 Edna Drive to 801 North 28th Avenue, which is in Ward 1.
“When Chambers submitted his voter registration application, he did so with the declaration that he swore or affirmed that he ‘truly answered all questions on this application for registration,’” the suit states. “If Chambers now alleges by his attempted qualification that he, for the past two years preceding the 2020 primary and general elections, has been a resident of Ward 1 … then this contradicts his voter registration application and voter history.”
On Feb. 12, George, a Republican, filed a petition with the Forrest County Democratic Executive Committee to contest Chambers’ qualifications. Five days later, the committee held a hearing on George’s petition.
On Feb. 18, the committee issued a decision upholding Chambers’ qualifications as a candidate for the election.
Chambers said he has been a registered voter and resident of the City of Hattiesburg for more than 15 years, and he views the petition as an attempt to suppress the vote, his candidacy and the voting process.
“The Democratic party, they looked at the evidence and they approved it, and this is just a continuation of what’s going on all around the country,” he said. “They’re trying to find any way possible – voter ID laws, they’re changing polling precincts 90 days before an election.
“This shouldn’t even be a matter for the courts; let the voters choose. If you want to be an elected official, then you have to be prepared that at every point, someone’s going to come and challenge your seat. So, let the voters decide who should represent Ward 1, and if this is your attempt to keep me off the ballot so that you don’t have a challenger, that’s just another form of voter suppression.”
George is now requesting that the Forrest County Circuit Clerk’s office ask the chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court to appoint a special judge to hear and determine the petition for review.
“George respectfully reserves the right to assert further law, facts, arguments and requests for relief at any time prior to or at the hearing or trial on this matter, and further requests any relief to which he may be entitled in equity or at law,” the suit states.
George said that when he first ran to serve on the council, he committed to voters to always show integrity in his actions, which is why he chose to move forward with the challenge to Chambers’ residency.
“I believe the people of Ward 1 deserve a representation on the city council that has demonstrated their commitment to investing in our community, which begins with living inside the city,” he said. “This challenge is about upholding the integrity of basic election law and ensuring that everyone is following the rules that have been put in place.
“While I will run a full campaign and will work for the support of every voter in Ward 1, I believe that any candidate who seeks this office must be qualified to serve as defined by the laws of the State of Mississippi.”