Municipal elections bring scrutiny to voter rolls

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Julia Hodges is the election commissioner for Madison County’s second district.

Saturday is the deadline for voters to register before next month’s municipal elections — a busy season for election commissioners statewide.

“The biggest thing is when we have elections, we get bogged down by not being able to make people inactive (on voting rolls) for four months around each election,” Madison County Election Commissioner Julia Hodges said.

The four-month hold on voter roll purging — 90 days leading up to the election and 30 days after — is required by state law. Though it protects voters from being purged as a way to control the outcomes of elections, it also shortens the window election commissioners have to purge voters from the rolls who died, moved, or lost the right to vote.

“This is our big clean up year because we do not have a lot of elections to bog us down,” Hodges said, noting that there are no more votes after the municipal elections and any runoff elections.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann underscores the importance of keeping voter rolls up-to-date around election time. Unfortunately the process of removing names is a long one and those charged with the responsibility —  each county’s five election commissioners — can only afford to work part time.

The Secretary of State’s office reported last week that six counties — Amite, Grenada, Humphreys, Leflore Madison and Noxubee — had more active registered voters than their voting age population as recorded in the 2015 U.S. Census update.

The Chairman of Grenada’s Election Commission, Wanda Ward, said before the registration problem can be fixed, her commission has some training to do.

“The thing is we are very new here,” Ward said. “We all got here in January. A lot of these names have been on the books for a while.”

Ward said that since she got on the job she has sent out 50 to 60 cards trying to confirm voting status. She said that though the commission struggles to find the phone numbers for a lot of people, she was surprised by how detailed Mississippi’s voter roll system is.

“When I was learning the system, I looked myself up one day,” Ward said. “I saw every time I had ever voted and where I had voted. If you changed your name—which I did—it was on there. I thought it was very interesting that you could keep up with so much. The access to where people are in their life, I just find that interesting.”

In Amite County, Vergia Bradley said the lengthy process necessary to purge rolls explains inaccuracies in the county’s voter rolls.

“We can’t just take people off the rolls without proof,” Bradley said. “We have to have a trigger.” She said that a lot of her time is spent searching for evidence to support the removal of a voter from the list.

“People will come in and tell us, but then we have to go and find proof,” Bradley said.

Election Commissioner Edward Course of Leflore County said that the purging of voter rolls should not be a quick process.

“Our numbers have gotten high because according to the law there is certain documentation that is necessary to remove them,” Course said. “We don’t just got down the roll and remove people who haven’t voted. We have to make certain that these people are no longer eligible to vote or have moved from the county or are deceased. We take our time. We are not going to get in a hurry. Right now we are in the process of getting our numbers down.”

Course said that over the next year, his county’s priority is to remove the people who hadn’t voted in 20 years or five federal elections. The state stipulates for removal after missing two federal elections.

“We cannot go any faster than we are going,” Course said. “This is not a job we are payed to do all day, everyday. It’s an elected position that is paid a per diem. We can’t just remove names without the right protocols. All the problems (Black people) had in Mississippi just to get the right to vote, my God, you can’t just throw that away. We do this as quickly as possible, but it’s important that we do it right.”

The biggest offender by far in the Secretary of State’s registration report — Madison County — purged approximately 5,000 inactive names from the voter rolls.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann

“People need to trust the integrity of the vote,” Hosemann said. “People don’t trust the vote if there are more people registered to vote than there are in the county.”

The report showed that Madison County has 77,567 active registered voters on their rolls. But according to the 2015 U.S. Census update, Madison County only has a voting age population of 72,820. That means that 106.56 percent of Madison County’s eligible voting age population is registered to vote.

As for why Madison County might have such a bloated active voter roll, Hodges said that the county’s explosive growth coupled with the presence of apartments can help explain why for every name purged there seems to be another in its place that needs purging.

“It depends on where you are in Madison as to where you have the movement,” Hodges said. “If you are in Ridgeland, you have a lot of apartments so you have people moving in and out so you have a lot of movement there. It’s kind of like digging in sand.”

“Rome was not built in a day,” Course said. “This won’t be done in a day, but it’s going to get done.”