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SOS Michael Watson recuses himself from board confirming former opponent’s reason for ending campaign

Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson has removed himself from the board in charge of approving if a new candidate can be put on the ballot to run against him, following Democratic nominee Shuwaski Young’s decision to withdraw from the race amid health concerns.

On Sunday, Young informed the media of his plans to leave the race, citing a “hypertensive crisis” that resulted in him being hospitalized overnight. In order for the Democratic party to submit a new candidate prior to the Nov. 7 general election, Young must now present an affidavit with his doctor’s signature to the State Board of Election Commissioners (SBEC).

However, the SBEC is made up of the governor, attorney general, and secretary of state – in this case, Watson. Pointing to a possible conflict of interest, Watson said on Tuesday that he will be recusing himself and his office from being part of the decision.

“I don’t know why the commission wouldn’t accept [his affidavit], but I am going to recuse myself. So, they are going to have to make that decision themselves,” Watson explained. “Typically, if someone has to remove themselves because of a health reason, an affidavit is sent to the SBEC, and we vote to accept it or not. If accepted, the (Democratic party) executive committee can name a substitute candidate for that position.”

Upon the expected approval of Young’s affidavit, Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Cheikh Taylor will have five days to nominate a new nominee for the upcoming secretary of state’s race. The SBEC will then have to approve said candidate.

It was also revealed by Mississippi Today within 24 hours of Young’s decision to withdraw that the former President Obama appointee was being investigated by the secretary of state’s office for a possible residency issue.

According to the Mississippi Constitution, all candidates seeking statewide office must be “a citizen of the state five years next preceding the day of election.” Young is believed to have voted in California as recently as 2020, per an Aug. 15 letter from officials with the secretary of state’s office.

“You were made an inactive voter by the Neshoba County Election Commissioners on January 23, 2017. During this time period, you have indicated that you registered to vote and voted in the 2018 and 2020 elections in California. Voter records from California indicate the same,” Election Compliance Officer Logan Witcher wrote. “From this information, we are unable to immediately verify your citizenship within the State of Mississippi for five years preceding the date of the election.”

The letter continued, stating that the SBEC was going to meet on Aug. 21 to assess Young’s qualifications. That meeting was later postponed for an undisclosed reason, with Watson saying he was not fully aware of his office’s involvement in Young’s alleged residency issues until just recently.

“I was recently made aware that we had sent him some notifications that he needed to provide proof for his residency,” Watson said. “That’s really going to raise some questions on whether or not the executive committee can replace him on the ballot.”

At this time, it is unclear if the SBEC will move forward with looking into Young’s residency challenges, as well as if Watson will remain involved in the case. They are expected to meet in the coming days to discuss Young’s affidavit for withdrawing from the race.

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