by Taylor Vance
Hinds County election commissioners acknowledged in a public meeting on Monday that they sent the wrong document to the company that printed its ballots, resulting in several polling places not having enough ballots for voters on Nov. 7.
The commission, all of whom are elected Democrats, answered questions from a coalition of civil rights organizations on Monday about what went wrong during the statewide election and how those mistakes could be prevented in future elections. Each of the commissioners present at the meeting on Monday took responsibility for the mistake.
“It was a complete human error,” District 2 Commissioner RaToya Gilmer McGee said. “I hate that the citizens of Hinds County experienced it.”
During Mississippi’s Nov. 7 general election, several Hinds County voting precincts ran out of ballots throughout the day. The county is majority Black, Mississippi’s largest county and a Democratic Party stronghold.
People waited in line for hours to vote as local officials attempted to replenish ballots and deliver them to polling places. It’s unclear how many people left without voting or decided not to travel to polling precincts because of the confusion from the shortages.
READ MORE: Hinds County ballot shortages cause legal mess on Election Day
State law dictates that county election commissioners supply enough ballots to each polling precinct. The commissioners told the coalition and the public at Monday’s meeting that their mistake in sending the wrong documents mostly impacted “split precincts” in the county.
Split precincts exist when several political boundaries share a single polling place. Different types of ballots must be on hand at the polling precinct whenever there’s a split precinct.
Before each election, the Hinds County Election Commission accesses statewide voter data to determine how many ballots should be distributed, but it sent the wrong voter data to the company it contracted with to print the ballots.
According to several commissioners, there are two types of polling precinct reports: a BP-008 and a BP-009. The BP-008 form discloses how many voters are registered at each precinct. The BP-009 shows how many different types of ballots are needed at each precinct.
Commissioner McGee said the commission sent the BP-008 form to the printing company, not the BP-009 form. When the commission submitted the wrong form, it caused the company to print an inadequate number of ballots for the split precincts.
While the commission acknowledged its mistake caused mass confusion during a competitive statewide election, McGee said better training from the Secretary of State’s office could have prevented the issue.
“The training needs to be different,” McGee said. “As an incoming professional woman, I feel like it was not a great training.”
Secretary of State Michael Watson’s office trains election commissioners in each of the state’s 82 counties. Watson told Mississippi Today in a statement that his office is available to answer questions and will “gladly spend time training those who need additional help.”
“Heading into the 2023 election, all 82 counties received the same training and resources from our office,” Watson said. “No other county experienced the issues we saw in Hinds County.”
Statewide officials have already certified the results of the Nov. 7 election, but Hinds County must conduct an election on Nov. 5, 2024, for a U.S. Senate and the presidential election, which typically attract many voters.
Gov. Tate Reeves also called for a special election in Hinds County in November 2024 for voters to elect a Hinds County Court judge, a local election that could involve split precincts.
District 4 Commissioner Yvonne Horton told reporters after the meeting that she believes the commission can learn from its prior mistakes and conduct the 2024 general election without widespread ballot issues.
However, Horton was vague on what concrete steps the commission was planning to take to prevent the ballot printing error or similar errors from happening in the future.
When asked if the commission, for example, planned to implement an accountability system for someone to review the data the commission sent to a future printing company, Horton offered a conflicting answer.
“No one has said they are going to do that, but I can assure you we are going to do that,” Horton said of an accountability system.
The commission’s next regular meeting will occur next month after a new slate of commissioners are sworn in for a new four-year term.
READ MORE: Judge extends Hinds County precinct hours after numerous ballot problems
This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.
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