When the five-member Hinds County Election Commission failed to provide enough ballots to voters in the state’s most populous county last November, it created intense frustration with voters and mass chaos on the night of a statewide election.
But the incident has also renewed calls from candidates and local election officials for the state Legislature to pass a law creating early voting.
Sharon Moman, an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for a Hinds County legislative seat, told Mississippi Today that if the state had some form of early voting, it would assure voters that their vote would count and circumvent Election Day mistakes.
“The silver lining in this is hopefully we can champion early voting for the state of Mississippi,” Moman said.
Mississippi, along with Alabama and New Hampshire, is one of only three states that does not offer early voting or no-excuse absentee voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
To vote absentee in Mississippi, a voter must list one of one of about 10 legal excuses for why they cannot cast an in-person vote on the election date. For example, a voter can cast an absentee ballot if they plan to be out of town on Election Day or if they are a college student.
These stringent voting options mean that most Mississippians are forced to cast an in-person vote at polling precincts, making it critical for local election workers to conduct Election Day without errors.
Members of the Hinds County commission, all of whom are elected Democrats, acknowledged in a meeting last month that they mistakenly sent the wrong type of voter file to the company they contracted with to print ballots.
The error caused some Hinds County voting precincts to run out of ballots throughout the day. The county is majority Black, Mississippi’s largest county and a Democratic Party stronghold.
People waited in line for hours to vote as local officials attempted to replenish ballots and deliver them to polling places. It’s unclear how many people left without voting or decided not to travel to polling precincts because of the confusion from the shortages.
Democratic Rep. Zakiya Summers of Jackson is a former Hinds County election commissioner, and she told Mississippi Today that regardless of how the county officials conducted the election, early voting should be a no-brainer in the Magnolia State.
“It doesn’t matter which political party you’re part of,” Summers said. “This tool would give you the opportunity to vote when it’s convenient for you.”
The Jackson lawmaker said if her colleagues oppose early voting, she thinks a viable alternative would be to enact no-excuse absentee voting.
Neither House Speaker Jason White nor Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, both Republicans, have appointed leaders of legislative committees, including the respective Election Committees. But efforts in prior legislative sessions to establish early voting or no-excuse absentee voting were unsuccessful.
Republican Secretary of State Michael Watson is responsible for administrating parts of the state’s elections and provides training to county election officials.
The secretary recently told Mississippi Today that every other county in the state conducted successful elections without early voting and reiterated to reporters on Wednesday that he is not proposing any major changes to the state’s election laws, including early voting.
“As far as I’m aware we have a really good system here in Mississippi,” Watson said.
White said he intends to finalize committee chair appointments by Jan. 12. Lawmakers have until Feb. 19 to file legislation.
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