Supreme Court Justice Kenny Griffis claims his opponent in Tuesday’s election illegally voted on the same day in two different cities during the most recent municipal elections.
But his opponent Court of Appeals Justice Latrice Westbrooks denies the allegation, and said state and county records showing she voted twice are incorrect. Through a spokesman, she said Griffis is “scrambling days before the election to steal an election.”
Griffis, temporarily appointed to his high court seat by the governor last year, said Westbrooks voted on May 2, 2017, in primaries in both the city of Lexington in Holmes County and the city of Jackson in Hinds County.
The Griffis campaign supplied records from the two county circuit clerks’ offices that indicate two votes on the same day. Voting records on file at the Mississippi secretary of state’s office obtained by Mississippi Today through a public records request match this.
Westbrooks campaign spokesman Phelton Moss, after viewing the files shared with Mississippi Today, said in a written statement on Wednesday: “We can say with confidence and certainty this did not happen. Judge Westbrooks unequivocally and unconditionally denies that she voted in Hinds County in 2017. Several months ago, when a member of the media asked her about the existence of some record indicating that she voted in Hinds County in 2017, Judge Westbrooks told the member of the media that if such a document exists, it is a result of a clerical error.”
Moss said: “Further, she told the member of the media that an inspection of the Official Poll Book for any 2017 Hinds County Election would not contain her signature, showing that she voted and therefore support that she did not vote in Hinds County in 2017. Since Judge Westbrooks communicated that information to the member of the media, no 2017 Hinds County poll book containing her signature has been produced.”
Neither the Holmes nor Hinds circuit clerks immediately responded to several requests for comment on Wednesday. Hinds County Election Commissioner James Reed says the county typically shreds voting records after two years, and he’s uncertain whether the commission would have municipal voting records regardless. The Jackson city clerk could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday.
According to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History list of records retention regulations, poll books and voter receipts are to be kept for two years after an election, but can then be destroyed. Counties send electronic versions of their voter records after an election to the secretary of state’s office.
State law says that any person voting in more than one place in any county or city in the same election … “shall, upon conviction, be imprisoned in the county jail not more than one (1) year, or be fined not more than One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00), or both.”
Griffis, through a spokesman, declined to comment on the allegations, but his campaign issued a statement.
Conrad Ebner, Griffis’ campaign treasurer, said in a statement: “It’s a normal, routine course of action for campaigns to check the voting history of their opponent. After months of waiting on requested documents to be produced by the Holmes County Circuit Clerk, the campaign finally received the official documentation on October 27 that Latrice Westbrooks voted on the same election day on May 2, 2017, in Holmes County and also in Hinds County. Mississippi needs judges who follow the law, not break the law. Election integrity is a foundation of our democracy and we need judges who are held to the highest standards.”
The Griffis campaign said it had to file a public records complaint with the state Ethics Commission before the Holmes County circuit clerk’s office would provide its records of Westbrooks’ voter profile, months after its initial request. The Griffis campaign said it received the Holmes County voter profile on Oct. 27. This, the campaign said, is the reason the public allegations are coming so late in the campaign before the Nov. 3 election.
The Westbrooks campaign statement from Moss continued: “Judge Westbrooks, a long-time champion for voter rights and voter education, knows the law. This is nothing more than our opponent and his campaign scrambling days before the election to steal an election from the voters of Central District One. Mississippi voters are tired of the old tricks — the future of Mississippi is on the ballot and our opponent knows such. We have an opportunity to elect a proven judge on Nov. 3rd. Judge Westbrooks would put her experience against that of her opponents anytime, and that should be the focus as we march towards Election Day.”
Westbrooks, of Lexington, was elected to the Mississippi Court of Appeals in 2016. She previously served as an assistant district attorney for Harrison, Hancock and Stone counties — the first African American woman to serve there as assistant DA. Westbrooks served as prosecutor for the city of Durant and as city attorney for Isola. She served as a public defender in Holmes County for nearly 10 years and has served as legal counsel for the Jackson Police Department and as a municipal judge for the city of Lexington.
In 2012, the state Supreme Court removed Westbrooks from the ballot for a Court of Appeals race. The state Board of Elections — the governor, secretary of state and attorney general — ruled that Westbrooks did not live inside the district for which she was running. Westbrooks appealed and a Hinds County Circuit Court judge ordered her name be placed back on the ballot, but the state’s high court overturned that decision, removing her name from the ballot.
Griffis, of Ridgeland, was appointed to the Supreme Court by then-Gov. Phil Bryant to fill out the term Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr., who left the bench at the end of January 2019. Griffis was a Mississippi Court of Appeals judge from 2003 until his appointment to the Supreme Court and was serving as chief judge of the appellate court at the time of his appointment.
Although Mississippi Supreme Court races are nonpartisan, Griffis has been endorsed by the state Republican Party, and Westbrooks has the support of numerous Democratic state leaders and groups.
The race is for the District 1, Place 1 high court seat for central Mississippi. The district of about 1 million people is nearly evenly divided by race, partisanship and urban/rural population. It covers the counties of Bolivar, Claiborne, Copiah, Hinds, Holmes, Humphreys, Issaquena, Jefferson, Kemper, Lauderdale, Leake, Madison, Neshoba, Newton, Noxubee, Rankin, Scott, Sharkey, Sunflower, Warren, Washington, and Yazoo.
Only one woman currently serves on the nine-member Mississippi Supreme Court, despite women making up more than 51% of the state’s population. And Westbrooks, if elected, would be the first African American woman to serve on the state’s high court, which currently has only one Black justice.
It would also mark the first time in the state’s history that two African American justices sat on the court at the same time.