IN THE KNOW: Election commissioners answer most common election day questions
Published 12:30 pm Saturday, August 5, 2023
NATCHEZ — What if my name is not in the poll book? What if I want to vote but can’t leave my car? Where do I vote?
These are questions that election commissioners run into quite frequently and ones that they have answers to. We asked them.
Where do I vote?
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The number one question election commissioner Larry Gardener said he is asked before elections is, “Where do I vote?”
Sometimes, voters think they know the answer but find out differently when they go to their usual polling place.
In fact, 9 times out of 10, when those who show up to the polls can’t find their name in the poll book, “Usually they’re in the wrong precinct,” Gardner said.
A quick trick to find out which precinct you’re in before voting is to check the voter registration card that all registered voters in Adams County should’ve received in the mail at some point.
For those who don’t know where their voter registration card is, like most, they can also check the Secretary of State’s website at www.sos.ms.gov/yall-vote, click on “my election day” and then key in their zip code and address to find out where they should vote.
Note, the polling place is not always the same for municipal and county elections. Those who intend to vote on Aug. 8 should go to the address listed under “County Polling Place.”
By clicking on “View Sample Ballot” on the same page, voters can also view and print out sample ballots for their particular precinct in upcoming elections, said election commissioner Tracey Gaude.
This is particularly important to note because this is a primary election, Gaude said.
Mississippi voters must choose whether they want to vote for candidates who are registered as Democrat or Republican before voting. Their choice determines which candidates appear on the ballot, so it’s important to know which races appear on each party’s ballot before voting.
What if my status is ‘inactive’?
Usually, once a person registers to vote, they remain registered and will appear on the list of registered voters at their precinct unless something happens to trigger and “inactive” voter status, Gardner said.
This could happen if someone moves and neglects to update their address.
“They may still be registered, but they may be inactive, Gardner said. “If you get sent a jury duty summons but the summons comes back to us in the mail, we can’t find you anywhere, we mark you inactive and you stay in that status until you either come and vote with an affidavit and then we have a new updated information or you contact us or the Circuit Clerk with your new information,” Gardner said. “It doesn’t mean you’re not registered. You’re still registered and if you’re inactive, are you able to vote affidavit and have your vote counted.”
What is new about the voting process?
Those who didn’t vote in November will find one significant change to the way their votes are cast on Aug. 8.
As of the last general election, Mississippi has returned to the use of paper ballots.
Gardner said anyone who was an active voter before 2005 will find this to be a familiar process.
“We got the (Optech) Eagles in 2005,” Gardner said. That is the electronic, paperless voting machines that were used up until the November election. “We’ve had paper ballots before then and these are identical. Other than that, the Scanner box is a little different. Some of our older voters will probably remember the old way of voting.”
Voters will have to darken in circles next to their choice of candidate, then insert their ballot into a machine to be counted.
If the voter has left a selection blank, they will receive an alert giving them a second chance to go over their ballot, or select “Cast Ballot” to force the ballot through, Gardner said.
“It’ll count everything you did vote for. It just won’t count the ones you didn’t,” he said.
All ballots should have signature on the back that tells the machine it is valid.
Because the votes filled out on paper are electronically counted, it shouldn’t take longer to receive election results. If anything, getting the unofficial result the night of the election should be faster since there is only one machine to count at each precinct.
“The key word there is ‘unofficial,’” Gardner said, adding it could take 5 to 10 days to certify an election. Usually, it takes five days. Those who vote with an affidavit because they did not have a photo ID have up until five days after the election to certify their vote by showing a photo ID.
Any absentee votes that are postmarked before the election are counted if they are received within five days after the election, Gardner said.
Voters who are disabled and can’t leave their vehicles can vote curbside. They can send their driver inside to request this service, or they can call their election commissioner’s office.
“They’ll take them the signature book and check their voter ID, the same process basically as you would have inside,” Gardner said. “Then they’ll go ahead and mark their paper ballot and they’re told to fold their ballot in half and hand it to the poll worker. The poll worker makes sure the signatures or their initials are in red on the back of the ballot and they’ll put it in an envelope that says curbside and seal it. That goes inside, goes in the bag and those wait till 7 p.m. until the polls close to be counted.
Rules for the polls
The one thing voters are required to bring with them to vote is a photo ID, Gardner said.
The name on the ID should match the name of the person registered to vote and the voter should resemble the person pictured on the ID, he said.
“If not, then (the poll worker) can confer with other poll workers and see if they think the photo does match up, and if it doesn’t then the person can vote on an affidavit ballot.”
Poll watchers have a few set rules they should follow as well, Gardner said.
“A poll watcher is supposed to have credentials, meaning they need to have something from the candidate that they’re representing and signed by that candidate with that poll watcher’s name saying that ‘Jane Doe is representing Larry Gardner as a poll watcher’ and I have to sign it,” he said. “They present that to the bailiff and the bailiff designates the spot where they should sit. The poll watcher can sit and observe the election.”
Gardner said poll workers are trained to audibly ask for photo ID from each voter loud enough that the poll watchers should be able hear it.
“You’re allowed to question it if they don’t,” he said. “That would be called a challenge. Anybody who’s a registered voter can challenge somebody’s right to vote. Now, when they do that, they have to give a valid reason and it has to be accepted by the poll workers. (Challenges are) extremely rare.”
Poll watchers also shouldn’t talk to the voters, Gardner said.
“They’re supposed to come in, sit quietly unless you have to challenge something and observe, not interfere,” he said.
For voters and candidates alike, no campaign material of any kind, including clothing with a candidate’s name on them, is allowed within 150 feet of the entrance to a polling place, he said.
Candidates or voters are also not allowed to hand out cards, discuss candidates with other voters or do any sort of campaigning inside the 150-foot parameter.
“Every door that comes into this building, they have to be 150 feet away,” Gardner said. “Generally, we don’t have much trouble with that. The one thing that we seem to have trouble with is people that want to pick up people and bring them to the precinct to vote and they’re doing it on behalf of a candidate, and they’ve got signs on their car while they’re dropping them off. We have to tell him you can’t do that. You can’t be parked outside the precinct door, dropping voters off with campaign literature on your vehicle.”
To measure the appropriate distance from the poll entrance to campaign, Gardner said to count 50 paces.
“Your stride is approximately 3 feet unless you’re a really small person,” he said.
People are also not allowed to loiter at the polling place.
“Once you vote, you have to leave,” he said.