Ty Pinkins speaks to the media after he is introduced as the Democratic candidate for Secretary of State, during a press conference held on the south steps of the State Capitol, Thursday, Sept.7, 2023. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

The leader of the Mississippi Democratic Party announced Thursday that Ty Pinkins, an attorney, will become the party’s replacement nominee for the ongoing secretary of state’s race. 

Democratic Party Chairman Cheikh Taylor told reporters in front of the Mississippi Capitol that when he asked Pinkins to become the party’s new candidate for the statewide office, he agreed “without hesitation” to place his name on the November general election ballot. 

“This is a man who has served his country, his beloved Delta, and people in marginalized communities across the state of Mississippi who needed his legal expertise,” Taylor said. “Now, he’s stepped up to ensure that come November, Mississippians still have a choice in who will serve them as secretary of state.”

Pinkins is an attorney, Army veteran and native of Vicksburg. He spent much of the last two years aiding Black farmer workers in the Delta who were being paid less money for their work than white visa workers from South Africa doing the same jobs — a legal case that garnered national attention and spurred congressional hearings.

Since January 2023, Pinkins has been actively campaigning as a Democratic opponent against incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, who is up for reelection in November 2024.

In a separate interview with Mississippi Today, Pinkins did not specifically answer a question on whether he intended to continue campaigning for the U.S. Senate while running for secretary of state or if he would suspend his Senate campaign if he were elected secretary of state. 

“That’s something that’s down the road,” Pinkins said. “Right now, what I’m focused on is this race and making sure that Mississippians have an option when they go to the ballot box in November.”

But the Democratic candidate does believe his early efforts campaigning for the U.S. Senate give him an unexpected leg up to become a sudden substitute candidate for a crucially important state office. 

“There are 82 counties in this state,” Pinkins said. “And already, we’ve been to over two-thirds of those counties over the last eight months. And we plan to continue what we were doing before: getting out to voters, explaining to voters the issues.” 

Pinkins is now faced with a daunting challenge. Voters will participate in the general election in roughly two months, and Pinkins, a Democrat running in a conservative state, must convince enough voters to elect him to a statewide office he wasn’t even seeking a week ago.

But the new Democratic nominee believes he can attract a coalition of supporters by promoting what he believes are “common sense” reforms to the state’s notoriously strict voting laws and continuing his past efforts of speaking directly to Mississippians. 

Mississippi law allows does not allow for online voter registration, no early voting or no-excuse absentee voting. 

Pinkins said, if elected, he would urge the Legislature to ease some of those laws and allow for alternative voting methods. 

“Making sure people can register to vote online makes sense, making sure that we have a way for people to do early voting – that makes sense, and not restricting access to the ballot for people with disabilities,” Pinkins said. 

The Democratic nominee will compete against incumbent Republican Secretary of State Michael Watson, who recently reported having over $883,000 in cash on hand for his campaign efforts. 

“Our record of tackling the tape to protect small business, preserving the integrity of our elections, assembling a statewide conservation plan, and making sure our entire team understands we work for and serve the taxpayers of Mississippi speaks for itself,” Watson said in a Thursday statement. 

The state party was forced to find a replacement for the race because its previous nominee, Shuwaski Young, withdrew his candidacy from the race because he recently experienced a sudden medical event. 

The State Board of Election Commissioners on Wednesday afternoon formally approved a request from the Democratic Party to replace the vacancy left by Young. Both Taylor and Pinkins thanked Young for his early efforts in campaigning for the office. 

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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.