Mississippi election officials risk disenfranchising thousands of voters unless they make changes to ensure voters have access to accurate polling-site information, a coalition of civil-rights and voting-rights groups said in a letter to Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson on Friday, Oct. 14.
The letter, which cites investigations the Mississippi Free Press conducted in 2020 and 2022, notes that “poll site changes impacted thousands of Mississippi voters ahead of the 2020 election due to omissions or inaccurate reporting of those changes to the Secretary of State’s online poll site locator.”
The groups joining the letter include the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU of Mississippi, Black Voters Matter, the Mississippi Center For Justice, the Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights Under Law, the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable, One Voice and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In October 2020, the Mississippi Free Press reported that the Statewide Elections Management System, the database where county election officials report polling site locations and changes to the Mississippi Secretary of State, failed to note dozens of changes. The inaccuracies within the SEMS database led Secretary of State Michael Watson to initially report just 17 polling place changes affecting about 18,600 Mississippi voters.
But an MFP analysis that Ashton Pittman and William Pittman conducted found that officials had made changes to at least 55 precincts affecting about 65,000 voters. Afterward, Watson’s office updated its list of changes to include the additional ones MFP had found. On Election Day 2020, voters across the state reported confusion over the location of their polling places, with some waiting hours in line before learning voting officials had changed their voting precinct months earlier without informing them.
In some cases, voters had relied on the Secretary of State’s online polling place locator, which draws information directly from SEMS, which relies on local election officials in all 82 counties to submit changes and keep information updated. In places where local officials had not submitted accurate information to SEMS, though, the locator tool sent voters to the wrong location.
Civil-Rights Groups Propose Solutions
The civil-rights organizations initially wrote Watson in March 2022 to
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