Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk Tony Rook had only been on the job 169 days on Tuesday when faced with one of the first big challenges of his time in office - a countywide election for national offices.
Rook, along with a team of election commissioners, deputy election clerks and party members, overcame technical difficulties during the election and weathered only a minimal number of complaints through a day often fraught with headaches for election officials.
Despite only seeing roughly 15 percent turnout, Rook said his first election in office went smoothly apart from the difficulties seen with voting equipment.
“This was a good process to cut my teeth on because this was a good starting point,” Rook said. “I was hoping turnout would have been higher and if you're going to have a technical issue like we had, I'm glad it didn't happen in November because that helps us better prepare for future races.”
Rook secured his first term in office during the November special election when he won a close race against Teresa Davis, winning with 51 percent of the vote. Prior to his move to Circuit Court, the lifelong resident of Oktibbeha County served as court administrator and department head for the Starkville Municipal Court for 18 years.
Rook took the place of Circuit Clerk Angie McGinnis, who returned to the job in an interim capacity following the resignation of Glenn Hamilton last July.
To better understand problems on the ground, Rook said he made personal visits to multiple precincts to hear how to make the process run smoother.
“I want to hear from those who are on the front lines and want to thank them for their assistance because without them, the process just wouldn't work,” he said.
When asked what the toughest part of the job has been up to this point, Rook pointed to the time commitment.
“The 18-hour days are tough, and are not something most individuals are accustomed to, but you do it and work as hard as you can,” he said. “For the election commissioners, other court staff, it's a long day.”
Rook also commented on his observations of aging equipment used in the election process, which could have been the cause of problems seen on Tuesday night.
“I will work with the court staff, election commissioners and the Secretary of State to ascertain whether or not some of our election equipment should be updated or replaced,” Rook said.
In doing so, Rook said he will always seek to determine a balance between the need for upgraded equipment and the need to be conservative with taxpayer's money.
When considering the parts of his first election that went smoothly, Rook pointed to the Logic and Accuracy (L & A) testing of the voting machines ahead of the election.
“We had representatives from both parties here overseeing things, media here, representatives from ES&S, election commissioners, it's a sophisticated system of checks and balances,” Rook said.
He then praised the cooperation of John Young, the chair of the Oktibbeha County Democratic Executive Committee and Marnita Henderson, the chair of the Oktibbeha County Republican Executive Committee, along with his own staff.
“I have to brag on the deputy clerks who assisted with this, Sheryl Elmore, Melody Monts, Schreese Carter, Tina Mullins and brag on the election commissioners because they've been up here working incredibly hard the last several weeks.”
Looking ahead to the next election, which will be a Primary runoff on June 26, the ultimate goal for the first-year circuit clerk is to protect the integrity of the election process
“As long as I'm here, I promise I will do everything to assure that that happens,” Rook said.