Elections

Republicans or Democrats? One of two Harrison County political parties got help paid for by taxpayers

Kenneth Welch stacks up 'I Voted' stickers at the Pass Christian Municipal Courtroom for voters on Tuesday, June 5, 2018. Voter turnout for the party primaries for U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in Mississippi was expected to be low.
Kenneth Welch stacks up 'I Voted' stickers at the Pass Christian Municipal Courtroom for voters on Tuesday, June 5, 2018. Voter turnout for the party primaries for U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in Mississippi was expected to be low. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

The Republican-dominated Harrison County Board of Supervisors contracted with the county's Republican-dominated Election Commission to do most of the work at Tuesday's GOP primary at a cost of $84 a day for each of the Commission's five elected members. Four are Republicans and one is a Democrat.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Executive Committee did the same work at that party's primary and received no pay. The Republicans apparently don't have enough people able to or interested in doing that.

Officials either didn't return messages and calls or wouldn't speak on the record but they noted the Democratic Party could have used the Commission's services at no additional cost to the county.

"I don't trust them," said Democratic consultant Billy Bova, who volunteers with the Democratic Executive Committee. "There are four Republicans to just one Democrat on the Commission. We'd rather handle it ourselves given those odds."

Exactly how much the Commission members make for the primary is unknown because the payroll doesn't differentiate between normal pay and pay for "special elections" such as primaries, which are the responsibility of the party.

The best guess they could come up with was $20,000. The county also provides all the election supplies and pays poll workers for each party.

Democrat Renick Taylor uses vacation days to work in the election. He recruits poll workers and trains them, and, like Bova, spends Election Day running back and forth between precincts to solve problems with equipment and explain election procedures to workers. Bova said besides the time spent, he burned a tank of gas Tuesday.

"It's one of the core responsibilities of being a political party," said Renick, who starts meeting with a seven-member election committee in January and devoted hundreds of hours to the primary. "We are more confident in our abilities."

For example, poll workers on the GOP side, he said, were using the Democratic manual to help them run their election.

The agreement signed by the Commission and the party said the some election tasks such as canvassing the returns, appointing a resolution board to review ballots that were rejected by the voting machines, making sure absentee ballots are counted and processing affidavit ballots.

The Commission was responsible for recruiting and training poll workers, appointing and training poll managers, picking up and returning ballot boxes, and making sure election supplies and equipment get to the correct voting places and set up the equipment.

In the two other Coast counties, Jackson and Hancock, the election commission did equal amounts of work for both parties.

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296; @jpaulhampton
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