Shuwaski Young addresses the crowd at the pavilion in Founders Square at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Miss., Wednesday, July 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Democrat Shuwaski Young’s abrupt Sunday announcement that he plans to drop out of the race for secretary of state for health reasons coincided with the Mississippi Elections Commission planning to meet in coming days to consider whether he was eligible to seek the office in the first place.

Young received a letter dated Aug. 15 from Logan Witcher, elections compliance officer in the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office, informing Young that the state Elections Commission would soon review whether he was eligible to seek the statewide post because of residency issues. The letter, obtained by Mississippi Today on Monday through a public records request, claimed Young was voting in California as recently as 2020.

The letter to Young, along with his announcement that he is dropping out for health reasons, raises numerous questions.

Under Mississippi law, the state Democratic Party could name a replacement for Young if he is dropping out for health reasons. But if he was ruled ineligible to seek the post because of residency issues, the party likely could not replace him. If he is dropping out for health reasons before being ruled ineligible for the ballot, it is not clear whether he can still be replaced by the state party.

In an interview on Monday afternoon, Young said he withdrew solely because of his health, and questions about his residency “100% absolutely did not” play a role in that decision. He declined further comments on residency questions.

“What basically happened is there was an incident where my blood pressure was really out of whack, sky high, but I was on top of it, saw doctors, had medication,” Young told Mississippi Today. But one recent day, he said, while out at lunch, he had an “incident.”

“That particular day, I was in a full suit, it was sunny, about 12 or 1 p.m. It was just too much,” he said. “… That’s when it hit me. I am just thankful to the emergency first responders, and folks at Golden Triangle Baptist Hospital where I had an overnight stay. It’s just been an up-and-down medical situation for me … I’m going to focus on my family and my health, and when the time is right I’ll make another run to serve the people of Mississippi.”

Young said he has talked with state Democratic Party leaders and would support anyone the party replaces him with in the race.

But the ultimate decision on whether the Democrat can exit the race lies with the three-member state commission, which is made up of Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, Republican Attorney General Lynn Fitch and Young’s opponent Republican Secretary of State Michael Watson. State law requires Young to submit an affidavit to the commission specifying his reason for withdrawing his name from the ballot.

If a majority of the commission determines Young’s health concerns are legitimate, they can vote to accept the affidavit. But they could also vote to reject the affidavit.

The state Elections Commission was scheduled to meet on Monday, Aug. 21, to take up questions concerning Young’s eligibility, according to the letter. That meeting was postponed and its rescheduling has not been publicly announced.

The Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office is tasked with checking the eligibility of statewide and legislative candidates and presenting those finding to the entire Elections Commission. Then the three members vote on candidates’ eligibility before approving the statewide ballot for November.

The fact that Young was challenging incumbent Watson, who is on the commission, adds another dimension to the unique situation.

Cheikh Taylor, chair of the Mississippi Democratic Party, told the Daily Journal on Monday that the party planned to name a replacement for Young to run against Watson sometime this week, though he did not name a specific person. Taylor did not address the issue of whether Young can still be replaced if he is not eligible to run.

In the letter to Young, the Secretary of State’s office said its research indicated that he was placed on the inactive rolls in his home county of Neshoba in early 2017.

Voter records indicated that Young cast ballots in California in 2018 and 2020, the letter said. The letter asks Young to provide documentation proving his citizenship.

READ MORE: Shuwaski Young faces residency questions in secretary of state run

The Mississippi Constitution requires a candidate for secretary of state to be “a citizen of the state” for five years “preceding the day of the election.”

Mississippi courts have historically looked at voting records as a factor to determine citizenship. According to the California Secretary of State’s office, to vote in California someone must be “a United States citizen and a resident of California.”

If Young actually voted in California as recently as 2020, it’s possible he does not meet the residency requirement. But earlier this year, Young told the Daily Journal he had maintained “joint residency” in Neshoba County while working in California.

Under state law, a candidate can drop out and be replaced because of health reasons or job-related conflicts. A candidate who dies before an election also can be replaced by the party.

In 2022, the issue of Young’s residency came up in his 3rd District congressional campaign against incumbent Republican Michael Guest. But a candidate for the U.S. House in Mississippi is not required to live in the state, so at that time the issue was not fully vetted.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.

Taylor, a native of Grenada, covers state government and statewide elections. He is a graduate of the University of Mississippi and Holmes Community College. Before joining Mississippi Today, Taylor reported on state and local government for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, where he received an award for his coverage of the federal government’s lawsuit against the state’s mental health system.

Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.