Voters demand reforms at panel

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 10, 2008

NATCHEZ — People are demanding changes in the electoral process in the State of Mississippi.

In the Comprehensive Election Reform Review Panel public hearing, members of the communities of Lawrence, Claiborne, Wilkinson and Adams counties brought up issues that have cropped up in the election process.

One of the major complaints among the attendees is paper ballots — namely absentee votes.

Email newsletter signup

Residents of Wilkinson County decried the process of casting paper ballots and the corruption that subsequently arose from said process.

Donna Smith, wife of former Wilkinson County District 2 Supervisor candidate Kirk Smith, said absentee voting has spurred much fraud and is one of the major conduits to election contests.

“Thousands of dollars have been wasted on election contests, and it stems from the absentee voting process — and not only election contests but heartache,” she said.

Gary Knight, election commissioner from Claiborne County, agreed that the most fraudulent actions come from absentee voting. And he said the fix is relatively easy.

“We have a system in place that needs very little modification — early voting that can handle absentee,” he said.

He said it’s a waste not to make minor modifications to electronic early voting to almost completely eliminate the need for absentee voting.

“It’s akin to having a cure for cancer and not using it,” he said.

Dorthea Hoffman, Wilkinson County resident, said another means by which fraudulent voting takes place is through curbside voting.

“There’s no doubt this has been used to absolutely stuff the ballot box,” she said.

For weeks before the elections in Wilkinson County, residents were allowed to vote curbside outside of the county courthouse.

And in Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s assessment of the special democratic primary and general elections in Wilkinson County, it was identified that candidates were found to be sitting in cars with voters as they cast curbside ballots.

Hoffman was requesting a way to sharpen the curbside voting process to lessen chances of such corruption.

Panel member Sen. Terry Burton pledged that he will suggest a way to decrease opportunities for curbside voting.

“Curbside voting would only be allowed on election day,” he said.

Another problem Wilkinson County residents brought up that led to such disgraceful voting in the county was not having highly skilled and trained poll workers.

Lee Carter, Wilkinson County poll worker, said he saw several discrepancies when he worked the polls during one county election.

He said voters would claim that the voting cards were not being accepted by the machine.

This was only a front to be able to vote twice, Carter said, and the poll worker would buy it hook, line and sinker. They would reprogram the card and the voter would get away with casting two ballots.

“Poll workers need to be cautioned in their training,” he said.

But this is not just a problem in Wilkinson County. Election Commissioner for Lawrence County Margaret Tynes said she experiences problems with poll workers as well.

“We need more stringent training for the poll workers,” she said. “That would take care of a lot of our problems in Lawrence County.”

Panel member and Adams County Election Commission Chairman Larry Gardner said one way to prevent making repeat mistakes in poll workers is to evaluate each poll worker, and if there are any mistakes, don’t rehire the poll worker next time.

Other issues that were discussed involved overseas absentee voting, voter identification and education.

The panel will make a total of five stops in Mississippi, collecting resident suggestions and complaints before presenting their findings to the Mississippi Legislature on Dec. 1.