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Missteps seen in elections

     Poll workers attempted to influence voters at Lincoln County precincts during this year’s elections, among other improper actions revealed in documents obtained from the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office.

      A Secretary of State election observer witnessed these missteps while in Lincoln County during the Aug. 2 primary election, Aug. 23 primary runoff and Nov. 8 general election for state and county offices.

      The observer’s notes, obtained through an open records request, indicate the most problematic incidents occurred during the August primary and runoff, with some poll workers lobbying voters to select one party’s ballot or the other.

      The political parties operate their respective primaries. In Mississippi, voters must choose either the Republican or Democratic ballots.

      The observer, who wasn’t identified in the records released, reported multiple instances in which a voter asked for a Republican ballot but a poll worker “from the Dem. table would say ‘but you know there are more local races on the Democratic ballot(‘) convincing (the) voter to switch.”

      Poll workers from both parties made similar appeals at multiple precincts, according to the observation notes, but those notes don’t name the precincts where these incidents occurred.

      Lincoln County Democratic Party Chairwoman Helen Funk said party leaders try to forestall these kinds of problems during precinct worker training.

      “We caution them about that kind of stuff,” she said.

      Without knowing the precincts these incidents occurred in, Funk said she could not discuss the issue more specifically.

      Leaders of the Lincoln County Republican Party provided similar statements.

      “I didn’t want that happening,” said local GOP chairman John Roberts.

      Roberts would not provide fuller comment and said he had no involvement with poll worker training.

      Bonita Bullock was the Republican executive committee member tasked with training poll workers.

      Bullock said she and Funk opted to train poll workers together rather than separately. She believes sufficient poll worker training was provided.

      “If there was (mistakes), it was not because we didn’t train them,” Bullock said.

      In addition to isolated persuasion of voters by poll workers, the most pervasive problem described in the observer’s records was a failure by election officials to post some public notices at voting precincts.

      In the Aug. 2 primary, the election observer visited nine of the county’s 32 precincts. Information on state and federal voting rights was absent from all nine precincts. Information for first-time voters who registered by mail was likewise absent in all nine precincts. Eight precincts lacked a sign showing voting hours.

      Only one precinct had information posted on casting provisional ballots. Four of the precincts lacked signs stating the general prohibition on fraud.

      The observer saw similar results in the Aug. 23 primary runoff after visiting 13 precincts.

      Secretary of State Communications Director Pamela Weaver, in consultation with the Secretary of State’s legal department, said all these materials are either required by state law or the Help America Vote Act, a 2002 federal law passed partially in response to the chaotic U.S. presidential election of 2000.

      When asked about the missing notices and signs, Roberts again stated he could not comment on the specifics of precinct activities.

      Funk said she was familiar with the requirement these notices be publicly posted and, when packing the supply bags for precinct workers, said she employs a written checklist to ensure everything is included.

      The Democratic chairwoman asked if the observer’s notes differentiate between the Republican and Democratic tables at precincts. Upon learning that they do not, Funk suggested the posted documents may have been missing from one party’s table but not the other.

     There’s no indication within the notes that this was the case.

      Additionally, in the Nov. 8 general elections, which do not feature separate Republican or Democratic tables, the observer visited 11 precincts and reported the same absence of the public notices missing from the primaries.

      When shown the list of missing notices, Lincoln County Circuit Clerk Terry Lynn Watkins said she was unfamiliar with any legal requirement that they be posted.

      Watkins further said signs showing the hours of polling precincts have never been posted during Lincoln County elections.

      Watkins provided a copy of the 2011 Mississippi Poll Manager’s Guide, published by the Secretary of State’s office. The guide gives a checklist of voter information poll managers should post at each precinct, a checklist that includes all the items missing from local precincts, the same items of which Watkins claimed ignorance.

      The Secretary of State’s office placed an observer during Lincoln County elections at the request of Roberts. Roberts denied that any specific incident prompted his request.

      “It was my first election as chairman, and I just wanted to make sure that everybody got their fair vote,” Roberts said. “Just being proactive.”

      Reflecting on the elections, he believes they were largely a success, despite any missteps.

     Said Roberts, “I think everything was pretty much on the up and up.”