Secretary of State Mike Watson was in Clarksdale Tuesday to meet with the Circuit Clerk and Election Commissioners to discuss ways to make voting more efficient and accurate.
“Mississippi as what is called ‘bottom up elections’ meaning the work in elections and the process leading up to them are done at the local level,” said Watson. “It is my goal to visit all 82 counties in the state regularly and I want to hear about your concerns.”
Purging voters rolls was one issued discussed by local officials Tuesday.
Watson said his office has determined that 41 of Mississippi’s 82 counties have active voter rolls that contain 90-percent of the county’s population on them. Coahoma County is one of them.
Coahoma County had 15,576 registered voters in November and an estimated voting age population of about 17,200. That is 90.52 percent registered to vote. The Secretary of State has said any number above 91 percent is a good reason for local election commissions to look at purging the roll.
Watson said Tuesday that number needs to be closer to 75-percent based on simple age demographics.
Humphreys County leads the state with registered voters at 107.26 percent of the voting age population estimate. Greene County is the lowest at 70.39 percent.
Coahoma County Circuit Clerk Demetria Jackson said the two questions she repeatedly seeks clarity on relate to absentee ballots and properly purging voter rolls.
Coahoma County saw a 223-percent increase in absentee voting during the November Presidential Election. Watson said he does not think it will be that high with Clarksdale City elections later this spring.
Watson pointed out in-person voting is the most accurate, followed by affidavit voting and then absentee voting.
“There are a lot of exceptions that allows someone to vote absentee,” said Watson. “You have to take them at their word and let them vote.”
Again Watson said it comes back to local election officials checking absentee ballots and affidavit ballots for validity and keeping the rolls up to date and the numbers straight.
Watson said county election commissioners are trained each year on voter roll maintenance.
“Purging the rolls doesn’t mean they are crossed off the voting list,” said Watson. “Federal law says if they don’t answer a jury summons, mail comes back when you send them a (voter) confirmation card, they first go on an inactive roll and after a further search or amount of time, they go on a purged list.
“But you still have that list and if someone suddenly shows up to vote, they cast an affidavit ballot,” Watson added. “If you find them and realize a mistake has been made, their ballot counts.”
Jackson said the confirmation cards are mailed out several times a year and the Coahoma County Election Commission meets monthly to see which cards are returned, check state death certificates and determine if people have moved from one ward to another or out of the county.
Coahoma County Election Commissioners are:
DIST. 1 – JoAnn Gates.
DIST. 2 – Andrew Thompson (chairman)
DIST. 3 – Mary Louise Smith
DIST. 4 – Roosevelt Noah
DIST. 5 – Virginia Burchfield
Watson also talked about a bill winding through the Mississippi Legislature that could make this process simpler and more effective.
“Federal courts said not voting in elections can be one ‘trigger’ in purging someone from the rolls, but not the only trigger,” said Watson.
A bill that would purge the voter rolls of inactive voters passed the state Senate last week and was sent to the House.
Senate Bill 2588 would create a statewide election management system and would remove voters who fail to respond to a notice from county election officials and fail to vote in two federal elections.
County election officials could purge a voter if they haven’t responded to a confirmation notice sent by mail for four consecutive years or haven’t voted in two federal elections. If they vote in any election during that four-year timeframe, they’re exempted from having their name removed from the voter rolls.
The bill would also require that no voters be purged from the rolls 90 days before a federal primary or general election.
“People think the Secretary of State is just looking to purge the rolls and stop people from voting,” said Watson. “That job falls to the local elected officials. We just watch the numbers and double check and triple check them. If we see a problem we first contact the local officials and if we can’t get it straightened out, then we report it.”
Questions or concerns about voting issues, policy and procedure for any election should be directed to the Secretary of State’s office at (601) 359-1350.