South Mississippi Congressional Candidates Debate 2020 Election, Voting Rights Policies

a photo of Johnny DuPree standing outside a wooden building
“Why are we voting on Tuesday? Why don’t we vote on Saturday?” Johnny DuPree, a Democrat running in Mississippi’s Fourth Congressional District, said on May 19, 2022. He is pictured here at the Neshoba County Fair in August 2019. File Photo by Ashton Pittman

Carl Boyanton, a Republican candidate running in Mississippi’s Fourth Congressional District, drew fire from an audience member during a forum in Hattiesburg on Thursday, May 19, after claiming that the 2020 presidential election may have been fraudulent.

“You are telling a lie,” a male college student shouted.

“So what you’re saying is that nobody should question? Every election out there has been fantastic? Every one of them?” the Republican businessman asked. Dozens of legal challenges in 2020 failed to produce any substantial allegations of widespread voter fraud.

Debate organizers stopped the back-and-forth, urging audience members to remain quiet and give candidates a chance to finish their answers. A group of college students, including the one who had argued with Boyanton, left the room.

“I hate we got to the point where we lost our young people because that’s what this is all about,” Johnny DuPree, a Democratic candidate who previously served as mayor of Hattiesburg, told the crowd. “A lot of us in 20 years from now won’t be here, but they’ll be here, and we need them involved in the process.”

Candidates Challenge ‘No-Show’ Incumbent

The candidates are hoping to oust the incumbent, Republican U.S. House Rep. Steven Palazzo, either in next month’s primary election or in the November 2022 general election. Palazzo, who is the subject of an ongoing federal ethics investigation, voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s victory on Jan. 6, 2021, the same day Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.

Carl Boyanton, a Republican candidate for Mississippi’s Fourth Congressional District, said he believes the 2020 election may have been fraudulent despite the fact that dozens of court challenges turned up no evidence of widespread fraud. He made the remarks at a candidate forum on May 19, 2022, where he and five other candidates also shared their views on voting rights. Photo courtesy Carl 4 Congress

Palazzo did not show up for the forum and has been absent on the campaign trail. His refusal to hold public in-person town halls or to participate in debates or forums has earned him the nickname “No-Show Palazzo” among opponents and some constituents. Mississippi State Sen. Brice Wiggins, a Republican challenger who criticized Trump as he was leaving office, also did not show up for the Hattiesburg forum, but has attended other campaign events.

Like Boyanton, two Republican attendees, Raymond Brooks and Kidron Peterson, also expressed doubts about the 2020 election.

“Everyone can do their own research and come to their own conclusions, you can get out there and find evidence that UFOs exist if you want. … From my own research, I do not believe it was a fair election,” said Peterson, a machinist who served in the U.S. Army Reserves.

Brooks, a self-described “political outsider” and “fearless conservative” Gulf Coast law enforcement officer, said he did not believe the “election was stolen,” but that some “voters were stolen.”

Alden Johnson, a Libertarian candidate, firefighter and EMT, said he wished the students had decided to stay in the room.

“I understand if they don’t,” he said. “I saw no harm in the initial investigations (into the election). But no, the election was not stolen, and I don’t have the time or patience to entertain conspiracy theories coming from a guy who makes pillows.” He was referring to Mike Lindell, the MyPillow executive who has spent millions of his own money boost former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud.

David Sellers, a Democrat and Methodist minister, also rejected claims of 2020 election theft.

“No, I do not believe the election was rigged. I’ve seen reports of several Republicans who have been held accountable for trying to rig it otherwise,” he said, likely referring to Trump supporters in several states who prosecutors have charged with casting multiple ballots.

Steven Palazzo sits at a committee hearing
As in most past elections, U.S. House Rep. Steven Palazzo, the Fourth Congressional District incumbent, has avoided all 2022 campaign forums and debates. First elected in 2010, the Republican incumbent is the subject of a federal ethics investigation. Photo courtesy Steven Palazzo/U.S. House of Representatives

During the forum, each candidate shared ideas for reforming elections, with some focused on making them more secure, while others emphasized making the ballot box accessible to more people. Several of the Democratic candidates mentioned the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would restore some of the voting protections from the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in 2013 and 2021.

Alden Johnson (L)

“I’m a big proponent of ranked choice voting. … The ranked choice voting encourages people to pick the best candidate instead of the one that has the most money for the most signs. The second part of my answer involves the criminal justice reform I mentioned earlier. We’ve got a lot of crazy laws always trying to be passed, a lot of them don’t pass, but there’s a constant push to criminalize more and more things when its result is more and more people being locked up. If you go to prison and you serve your time, once released from prison, you should have the right to vote. With all these laws being passed, it’s just a way to prevent people from voting.”

Kidron Peterson (R)

“I think as far as voting, make it more secure with paper ballots. But I’d add something nobody else has, a fingerprint. Everybody should put their fingerprint on their ballot. There’s no way they can fake new fingerprints because everybody’s fingerprints would be in the system because almost everyone in the U.S. has fingerprints.”

Raymond Brooks (R)

“I think we all need to have that security at the end of an election cycle that our votes counted and our voices mattered. I think we need to find a way to make it fair for everybody and make sure everybody’s voice counts. … Mail-in voting is great for convenience, but it also leaves too much room for cheating and things to look into that’s not fair. As soon as we find a way to do that that’s going to be fair for everyone across the board, I think the better off we’ll be as a nation.”

Johnny DuPree (D)

“Certainly, I think election reform is at the forefront of what we’re talking about. We’re talking about democracy, democracy’s underpinnings, that’s the one thing, that’s what makes us equal. That’s what’s being systematically taken from us. The John Lewis Act should be one of the first things to enact. … And why are we voting on Tuesday? Why don’t we vote on Saturday? Voting is so important to us. It is why we are here tonight.”

Carl Boyanton (R)

“We need election integrity. Every vote should count. We need to go to voter IDs and paper ballots. Everybody seems to be in agreement on it except for the people who run the elections. … Just like every other right we’ve got, the right to vote is your right, but it’s not the government’s job to pick you up at your house and bring you down to vote.”

David Sellers (D)

“I also echo the very first thing we need to do is the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, but we need to institute other things to make voting accessible to everyone. The news media talks quite a lot about Florida and Texas and how hard it is to vote, but if Mississippi were to go to those (systems), it’d be a big step up. … Make voting day a holiday or move it to the weekend. Several states have been ahead of the curve of figuring out mail-in-voting and it works great from the comfort of your home.”

a photo of David Sellers standing outside a church
“Make voting day a holiday or move it to the weekend,” said David Sellers, a Democratic candidate running in Mississippi’s 4th Congressional District. Photo courtesy Sellers campaign

Though he did not attend the forum, Brice Wiggins’ website says he wants “to restore confidence in our elections.” Two other Republican candidates skipped the forum: Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell and retired banker Clay Wagner

Though Ezell’s website does not include a section on voting issues, it describes him as a “long-time supporter of President Trump” who “understands the importance of putting America First” and vows to “push for Trump-era policies that keep our nation strong.” At a time when Democrats are pushing for new federal election protections, Wagner’s Website says he believes in “state’s rights” and that “some of the biggest problems our country is facing right now is due to too much federal involvement in state’s business.”

“Mississippi has some of the most secure elections in our country because we did it right from the start,” Wiggins’ website states, without noting that Mississippi has the nation’s most restrictive voting laws. “As your Congressman it will be my job to stand up against all fraud and any effort that threatens our electoral process, no matter where it exists in our country. Every vote in America must be handled in a way in which we all have 100% confidence.”

The Forrest County NAACP, the Pine Belt League of Women Voters and Mississippi M.O.V.E. hosted the bipartisan forum at Hattiesburg’s C.E. Roy Community Center.

Primaries on June 7, 2022

The primaries take place on June 7, 2022. Registered voters can choose to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primaries in their congressional districts. Secretary of State Michael Watson has urged voters to verify their vote registration is active by checking online at this link.

When they arrive at the polls on June 7, voters must bring an acceptable form of photo identification, such as a driver’s license, state-issued photo ID, U.S. passport, government employee ID card, student ID from a state university or college, firearms license, tribal ID or a Mississippi Voter Identification Card. Information on how residents can obtain a free voter identification card from their local circuit clerk’s office is available here.

Voters are eligible to cast a ballot if they registered at least 30 days before the primary or by May 9, 2022. More information on voting is available on the Secretary of State’s FAQ section and Voter Information Guide.

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