Sometime between the 2018 national midterm elections and Mississippi’s 2019 statewide elections, Yalobusha County election officials had a problem: A bridge in Coffeeville, Miss., had gone out, preventing about half of its roughly 150 registered voters from reaching the precinct’s polling place at the Scuna Valley Fire Station.
Officials solved the problem by splitting the precinct in two, with Vann’s Mill North precinct at the old location and Vann’s Mill South precinct at Clear Springs Fire Station, an official in the Yalobusha County Circuit Clerk’s office told the Mississippi Free Press on Monday.
Over four years after making the change, though, the statewide database voters rely on when looking up their polling place on the Mississippi Secretary of State’s online tool still does not list an address for the Vann’s Mill South precinct.
The Mississippi Free Press’ latest investigation and an examination of data in the Statewide Election Management System found similar issues with SEMS showing missing, incomplete, incorrect or old addresses for 92 precincts across almost a quarter of the State’s counties.
Unlike many other states, the State of Mississippi does not provide an up-to-date, comprehensive list of polling places to the public. To identify polling-place changes and problems, the Mississippi Free Press requested a PDF copy of an Oct. 5, 2023, SEMS report; the reporters also gathered polling place lists from county election officials, compared them to the information in SEMS and made calls to correct discrepancies.
Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson told voting rights groups in a 2022 letter that the role of his office “is limited” and he cannot force counties to accurately report up-to-date precinct information to the State. Photo by Ashton Pittman
Since 2020, the Mississippi Free Press has repeatedly interrogated SEMS, identifying voting-precinct changes the secretary of state’s office did not know about and attempting to publicly correct errors to provide the public with accurate voting information. This work has prompted voting-rights organizations to urge Secretary of State Michael Watson to make changes; he has repeatedly said it is up to local election officials to keep SEMS updated with accurate polling-place information
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