Starkville Daily News - - AROUND TOWN -

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.

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