Breaking down the week-long process to determine a winner in the race for mayor of Columbus

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COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – Since the polls closed on June 8, the citizens of Columbus waited a full week to find out the results of the 2021 mayoral election.

After the city Election Commission received the final 16 absentee ballots (12 accepted, four rejected) and verified six affidavits that had been on hold, Keith Gaskin held on to his lead over incumbent Robert Smith.

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“In a city of Columbus’s size, the amount of time that it’s taken to count the ballots and certify the results is a bit unusual,” says Dr. Brian Anderson, a political science professor at the Mississippi University for Women.

Dr. Anderson says the 2020 Presidential Election has created widespread apprehension when it comes to voting.

“What we saw in the wake of November 20 is a lot of doubt about the integrity of the process and who’s involved in the process.”

Which is why Dr. Anderson says city officials took their time to make sure an election of this magnitude is above suspicion.

“The city would certainly like to avoid a controversy,” he says. “And so, out of a tremendous amount of caution, they are taking their time to make sure that they not only get the counting done right but that the process is transparent.”

Based on the paper ballots and all absentee ballots that were cast and received on election day, Gaskin led the current Mayor Smith by a margin of 66 votes.

Officials spent nearly two hours on election night tabulating the results. The Election Commission then reconvened Thursday and spent close seven hours counting the nearly 200 affidavits and curbside ballots.

They did so in front of a packed house of citizens and media, periodically answering questions and explaining why an affidavit, which is used when election workers can’t verify a voter’s information, might have been rejected or put on hold.

“Affidavit and absentee ballots have their deadlines and legally, you need to follow through the process and allow those deadlines to pass,” Dr. Anderson says. “Because in some cases, they’re being mailed in.”

After Thursday, Gaskin still held a 40-vote lead over Mayor Smith with 53 outstanding absentee ballots that had to arrive by Tuesday in order to be counted.

“If it was a landslide, even without all of those other types of ballots in, they would have declared it based on, essentially the paper that went in the box on Tuesday,” Dr. Anderson says.

The political science professor said that regardless of who the winner is, a legitimate outcome for the mayoral race is what Columbus needs to move forward.

“If we’re going to change mayors or keep with the incumbent, it has to be a decision that is validated and not doubted,” he says.