Modernizing voter registration had a setback in Jackson County during the midterm elections, with electronic poll books declaring a number of people had already voted, though they had not.
Those people were allowed to vote by affidavit, including some who were told they were at the wrong precinct, even though they were at the correct one.
Others complained to poll watchers that it appeared to be happening only to Democrats.
Unless problems with the new poll books can be fixed before the Nov. 27 run-off election, voters will be checked in on the old-fashioned paper poll books.
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“We are in conference with the manufacturer to address this issue,” Danny Glaskox, chairman of the Jackson County Election Commission. “We will refrain from using them again until we are sure that the issue is resolved to our satisfaction.”
The Election Commission spent about $125,000 on the electronic poll books, which are about the size of an iPad.
At least 34 states use or will soon use e-poll books to process voters at polls, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Mississippi has a statue that refers to electronic poll books but doesn’t explicitly require them.
They’re touted as being an easier, more efficient way of processing voters at the polls and promote error-free sharing of data. For instance, poll workers can see where you are legally registered to vote and if you have already cast a vote.
Was it a political problem?
An Ocean Springs woman said she and her husband went to the Villa Maria precinct and she was allowed to vote only by affidavit. The poll book mistakenly showed she had already voted. Her husband had no problem voting.
“He and I have not voted the same way in the past few years, me Democrat, he Republican,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be used.
“I called the Secretary of State’s Office. I am not aware of any Republican voters who had this issue, not that I am taking a formal poll.”
Leah Rupp Smith of the Secretary of State’s office has issued a statement saying some of the poll books were not operating properly in some Jackson County precincts.
Former Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran said Democrat poll watchers told her it appears not all of the voter records from the June election had been cleared, which is why it showed that some Democratic voters on Nov. 6 had already voted that day, when they had not.
But Glaskox said he wants to make this clear:
“The electronic poll books do not reflect whether a person is Republican or Democrat,” he said.
“We had one tablet that did not clear out all the prior information and that tablet was removed immediately and those that attempted to vote already were allowed to vote by affidavit ballot.”
Glaskox said the the electronic poll books give details on where the voter is registered according to their current address.
It’s unclear how many voters were affected. “I have no way of knowing exactly who was given the incorrect information, but all our poll managers were properly trained on how to determine the voter’s ‘correct’ precinct to vote,” he said.
The number of absentee ballots in Jackson County varied, from 1,128 absentee ballots in one race to 1,183 in another.
One of the advantages to electronic poll books, Glaskox said, is that if you show up at the incorrect precinct, the poll manager won’t be allowed to “code” you a voter card.
“The voter must go to their correct precinct if they are a registered active voter,” he said. “If they have moved, then they can vote an affidavit ballot in their new precinct according to their new addresses.
Moran said Democrat poll workers who compiled complaints said several people who have lived in the same place for 25 to 30 years were told they were at the wrong precinct.
Elections in general often don’t always run smoothly. Still, Glaskox said it’s frustrating to hear so many complaints.
“Our job is to make voting a privilege, not a hassle,” he said. “We all took an oath just like all of our poll managers do to be honest and fair to every person and that is why it is very frustrating when we hear stories like this.”