Mississippi Secy. Of State Office Releases Hattiesburg Election - WHLT 22 Connecting the Pine Belt

Mississippi Secy. Of State Office Releases Hattiesburg Election Report

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The Mississippi Secretary of State, Delbert Hosemann released a full report of the recent Hattiesburg Special Election:

Following an Order from Judge William Coleman, a second election for the Mayor of the City of Hattiesburg was ordered by the Governor of the State of Mississippi.  The Writ of Election was issued on August 20, 2013.  The election was to be held on September 24, 2013. 

 

Municipal Election Commissioners are the only legal authority authorized to conduct municipal elections and are required to "…perform all the duties with respect to the Municipal Election." Miss. Code Ann. §23-15-221.

 

            Under State law, the Secretary of State is required to train Municipal Election Commissioners.  Initially, following the turmoil surrounding the first election, the City Council selected only two (2) new Municipal Election Commissioners.  The Secretary of State's Office conducted training for the two (2) new Municipal Election Commissioners and three (3) Municipal Election Commissioners who had served in the June General Election on August 28, 2013 in Jackson, Mississippi.  This training consisted of eight (8) hours of instruction provided by the Secretary of State's Office and the Attorney General's Office, including an opportunity to ask questions by the Municipal Election Commissioners, and answers.  The topics covered during training were Municipal Poll Manager Training, Affidavit Ballot Procedure, Absentee Ballot Procedure, Resolution Boards, Attorney General Opinions Update and Voting Device/TSX.

 

            Subsequently, the City Council appointed three (3) new Municipal Election Commissioners to take the place of the three (3) previous Municipal Election Commissioners who had served during the June General Election.  On September 13, 2013 these three (3) new Municipal Election Commissioners and the Interim Municipal Clerk, traveled to the Secretary of State's Office in Jackson, Mississippi and received the same training as was provided to the first two (2) new Municipal Election Commissioners on August 28, 2013, and as was provided to all Municipal Election Commissioners during this year in Mississippi.  Following this training, the Municipal Election Commissioners are required by State law to train the poll workers.  Miss. Code Ann. § 23-15-230.  The Secretary of State is not authorized to train poll workers.

 

            Absentee voting for the election began on September 3, 2013 at the Municipal Clerk's office.  The Municipal Clerk resigned in the interim following the first election, and an Interim Municipal Clerk was named by the city.  A Deputy Municipal Clerk, understood the election duties on behalf of the City of Hattiesburg, but had not received training prior thereto.  As an accommodation, the Secretary of State's Office sent personnel to Hattiesburg during the absentee voting period to observe the process and, when asked, to provide assistance to the Deputy Municipal Clerk. 

 

            The Secretary of State is not authorized to handle any ballot, make any determination as to the qualification of a voter, or as to whether a voter meets the statutory requirements to vote by absentee ballot.  With respect to county and municipal elections, the primary duties of the Secretary of State's Office is the training of election commissioners and clerks, publication of election-related materials and providing assistance to election officials and the public, when questions are asked.  During the absentee voting period, our Agency provided virtually daily responses in answer to questions concerning the statutory requirements of absentee voting and the conduct of the municipal election.  In accordance with State law, no Agency representative assisted in the absentee voting process or made a determination of the validity of any absentee ballot.  The Deputy Municipal Clerk repeatedly stated his appreciation of the Agency's assistance, as he had not previously conducted all absentee voting.  Our observers noted a sincere effort by the Deputy Municipal Clerk, even though he was learning during the process.

 

            Municipal Election Commissioners appointed the poll workers and scheduled two (2) training sessions for the Hattiesburg poll workers.  Pursuant to Miss. Code Ann. §23-15-221, Municipal Election Commissioners are responsible for conducting all general and special municipal elections.  The duties of the municipal election commissioners include the appointment of poll workers, the training of poll workers, the printing of ballots, the distribution of the ballot boxes and the canvass and certification of the election results.  A copy of the Municipal Election Handbook and the Mississippi Poll Managers Guide are available on the Secretary of State's website at http://sos.ms.gov/elections5.aspx

 

            As an accommodation to the Election Commissioners, the Agency staff traveled to the poll worker training seminar conducted by the Election Commissioners.  At the meetings, the Election Commissioners did not request the assistance of the Agency in addressing the poll workers or pose any questions.

 

ES&S is the company selected by the City to provide it access to the voting machines, to conduct its testing of the voting machines, to ensure they are in good working order, and to conduct voting device training for the poll workers.  The Agency reviewed the training schedule provided by ES&S for the testing of the voting machines and the training of the poll workers.  Voting device poll worker training was conducted by ES&S and the Municipal Election Commissioners on September 16, 2013 from 10:00 am until 12:00 noon, 1:00 pm until 3:00 and again from 6:00 pm until 8:00 pm by the Election Commissioners. 

 

            Follow-up training was conducted on September 17, 2013 from 1:00 pm until 3:00 pm and 6:00 pm until 8:00 pm by the Municipal Elections Commissioners and two (2) ES&S technicians. 

 

            In anticipation of the election, the Agency released a statement on September 17, 2013 indicating that all fourteen (14) precincts would have Agency personnel located in the precincts.  At that time, the Agency indicated the election was to be conducted by the Municipal Election Commissioners and the Agency was not the "Election Police."

 

            On September 17, 2013, the Secretary of State held a joint news conference with the District Attorney indicating a network had been established for reporting issues on Election Day and Post-Election Day to the District Attorney and to the Attorney General.  Protocol and contact information was established.  On September 20, 2013, the Secretary of State published a letter in the local newspapers encouraging citizens to vote.  On September 21, 2013, the Secretary of State provided a local television station with a two (2) minute editorial, requesting voters to educate themselves on the candidates' qualifications and to cast their ballots.

 

            On September 24, 2013, Agency personnel were stationed in all fourteen (14) precincts.  In addition, Federal election observers were present, as well as poll watchers, for three (3) candidates and for the Democratic Party.  The Agency produced a fact sheet of frequently asked election questions, provided to the Municipal Election Commissioners, who provided the same to its poll workers.  A link for the FAQ is provided below.

 

            Thirty-seven (37) percent of eligible voters, or 9,660 individuals, cast ballots in person, absentee or by affidavit ballot in the first Hattiesburg Municipal Election.  The number of ballots in person, absentee, or affidavit increased significantly to 14,850, or fifty-three (53) percent of eligible voters, in the second Hattiesburg Municipal Election.

 

 

IMPERSONATION VOTING

 

            Marvin Medina Allen arrived at Sigler Center Precinct to cast his ballot.  He was informed by the poll worker someone had already executed the poll book and had voted in his name.  Mr. Marvin Medina Allen provided identification verifying who he was, which was accepted by the poll workers.  Records indicate he had voted in five (5) previous elections since March 11, 2008.  Mr. Marvin Medina Allen voted by an affidavit ballot.  The ballot cast previously in Mr. Marvin Medina Allen's name was voted on the voting machine.  

Later, following the election, a second individual was introduced in a television news conference as Marvin Montray Allen.  He indicated he was a registered voter and previously had voted at the Sigler Center.  A review of the Statewide Election Management System indicates Marvin Montray Allen was purged by the Forrest County Election Commission from the voter roll in 2006.  He was initially registered to vote on May 1, 2001, but was purged based upon a change in residence and no voting activity in the two subsequent (2) Federal elections.  Marvin Montray Allen was not an eligible voter under Mississippi law.  Mississippi law, §97-13-35, Miss. Code Ann., states, where a ballot is cast by an unqualified person, it is a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, an individual is subject to a Two Hundred Dollar ($200.00) fine and/or six (6) months in the county jail. 

 

 

ELECTION DAY – 7:00 am to 7:00 pm

 

            The Agency received approximately one hundred sixty four (164) phone calls on Election Day and made one hundred thirty three (133) telephone calls.  These calls were from members of the public and election officials. 

 

            Press releases were issued at approximately 10:00 am and 3:00 pm. 

 

            Each polling location was supplied with its respective poll book, listing all qualified electors for each precinct.  However, not all polling places were supplied with a master voter roll.  As a result, some poll workers could not direct qualified electors to their correct precinct.  By approximately 10:00 am, master voter rolls were printed at City Hall and distributed to the polling places.

 

            An example of several Election Day telephone calls are as follows:

 

ELECTION DAY TELEPHONE CALLS

 

  • Master Voter Roll not provided to Poll Managers in the polling places; poll managers unable to determine correct precinct of voters whose names are not in the poll book and need to vote by affidavit ballot
  • Rowan:  Poll watcher inquiring into the proper time to challenge a voter
  • Burger Center:  Poll watchers wrongfully "campaigning" by greeting voters in polling place
  • Camp:  Hattiesburg Patriot reporter disturbing the voting process
  • North Heights:  Poll watcher refused to move chair away from the voting machine, compromising the privacy of the voter(s)
  • Dixie Pine Central:  improper voter assistance
  • Highland Park:  Poll watchers challenging USM voters; names in poll book but "no mailing address" provided
  • Timberton:  Poll Managers improperly sending voters to a county polling place, "Lillie Burney Center"
  • Rowan:  long line (A-M); about 20-25 minutes to vote
  • Train Depot:  violation of the 150' rule (campaigning within 150' of the entrance to the polling place); improper curbside voting
  • DOJ observers in polling places, asking voters if they know why they are voting by affidavit ballot and if they were provided information as to how to find out if their affidavit ballot counted and, if not, why
  • Poll watcher taking pictures of the receipt book.

 

 

ELECTION DAY REPORTS

 

            Election Day Reports from each of the fourteen (14) precincts are attached for review, as well as the commentary.  Polls were opened on time, although some voting machines were not fully operational for several minutes until after the polls opened.  However, machines were available at each polling location at 7:00 am. 

           

            Throughout the day, poll watchers in some precincts did not follow the directions of the poll workers.  They were either too close to the voting machine(s), impeding the voting process, or taking photographs of the actual receipt books.  The Agency informed the Election Commissioner(s), who in turn informed the poll watchers that taking pictures of the receipt books was not allowed.  Continuous reports occurred throughout the day of poll watcher issues.  In each case, the appropriate Election Commissioner was informed and traveled to the precinct to "resolve" the situation.           

 

POLL OBSERVER REPORTS SUMMARY

Rowan:

  • Machine Total:  1433
  • Affidavit Ballots:  48
  • Curbside Ballots: 49
  • Absentee Ballots:  139; 14 initially rejected by poll workers
  • Improper voter assistance:  voters who received assistance, did not request assistance, and did not specify a statutory reason for needing assistance
  • Improper curbside voting:  "drive through voting" – Poll Managers took a stack of blank ballots outside and allowed people to vote curbside, in violation of statute; poll book was not taken outside or used, and voter signed a separate receipt book
  • Affidavit voters not provided written instruction as to how to find out if their affidavit ballot counted and, if not, why (violation of HAVA)
  • Affidavit ballots not immediately placed in locked/sealed ballot box
  • Poll book initially missing first (2) pages; pages delivered by Election Commissioner by 10:00 a.m.
  • Processing of absentee ballots slow by reason of challenges made by poll watchers, but completed by the Poll Managers in accordance with statute
  • Ballot Box not sealed; locked with a padlock only

Sigler Center/Blair High School

  • Machine Total: 1006
  • Affidavit Ballots: 19
  • Curbside Ballots:  5
  • Absentee Ballots: 40; 6 initially rejected by poll workers
  • Challenged votes improperly handled by Poll Managers:  list of challenged ballots included with accepted ballots" implies Poll Managers required all voters to vote by Affidavit Ballot and then later considered and acted upon the challenge
  • 3 absentee affidavit ballots were in the ballot box at the beginning of the day.
  • 3 affidavit voters did not sign the receipt book; poll manager signed the voters' names
  • Poll watchers interrupting the process and intimidating voters by "crowding" the sign-in table while voters stating their names to the poll managers

Highland Park:

  • Machine Total:  1208
  • Affidavit Ballots: 74
  • Curbside Ballots:  3
  • Absentee Ballots:  35
  • Improper handling of challenged USM voters:  all voters registered and names appeared in the poll book; poll watcher challenged the voters because no mailing address was provided; all voters were allowed to vote, but by affidavit ballot
  • Poll watchers walking around the polling place, interrupting the voting process; sitting at the table with the poll managers; sitting near a voting machine, compromising the privacy of the voters and refusing to move after being asked by the poll managers
  • Bailiff ineffective in controlling poll watchers
  • Improper voter assistance:  not all voters who received assistance (21), requested assistance (6) or provided  a statutory reason for needing assistance (9)
  • Affidavit voters were not provide written instructions as to how to determine if their ballot was counted and, if not, why (HAVA requirement)

Thames School:

  • Machine Total:  2320
  • Affidavit Ballots:  13
  • Curbside Ballots:  12
  • Absentee Ballots:  148; 20 initially rejected by poll workers
  • Improper voter assistance:  not all voters who received assistance, requested assistance or provided  a statutory reason for needing assistance
  • Poll watchers challenged all 148 absentee ballots; all challenges unanimously rejected by the poll managers

Hattiesburg Intermodal Facility/Train Depot:

  • Machine Total:  1127
  • Affidavit  Ballots:  37
  • Curbside Ballots:  7
  • Absentee Ballots:  171
  • Improper voter assistance:  not all voters who received assistance, requested assistance or provided a statutory reason for needing assistance
  • Poll Watchers "campaigning" by moving about the precinct greeting voters; tried to influence voters; caused an interruptions in the voting process
  • Affidavit ballots placed in ballot box without being placed in affidavit envelope
  • Ballot box reopened during the day to retrieve an affidavit ballot
  • Poll Managers discouraged affidavit voting
  • Hattiesburg American reporter interviewed Poll Manager during voting, while assisting a voter
  • Curbside voters signed the affidavit voter receipt book
  • Polling place locked at 7pm

 

 

Wesley Manor Retirement Center:

  • Machine Total:  965
  • Affidavit Ballots:  65
  • Curbside Ballots:  3
  • Absentee Ballots:   37; 8 initially rejected by poll workers
  • Poll watcher(s) provided assistance to voters
  • Missing signage:  sample ballot; instructions for affidavit voters
  • Improper curbside voting:  ballots placed in affidavit envelopes
  • Poll Managers did not compare the signature on the absentee ballot application to the signature across the flap of the absentee ballot envelope
  • Poll Managers did not write the reason for rejecting absentee ballots on the envelope

 

East 6th Street USO Club/ Burger Center

  • Machine Total:  939
  • Affidavit Ballots:  37
  • Curbside Ballots:  7
  • Absentee Ballots:  98; 10 initially rejected by poll workers
  • Missing signage:  list of absentee voters; sample ballot (from June 4 election)
  • Violation of the 150' rule; Ware campaign
  • Improper voter assistance:  not all voters who received assistance, requested assistance or provided  a statutory reason for needing assistance
  • Poll watchers moved about the precinct greeting voters; trying to influence voters; or causing an interruption of the voting process
  • Affidavit voters not provided instructions as to how to determine if their ballot was counted and, if not, why (HAVA requirement)
  • Poll Managers did not write the reason for rejecting absentee ballots

Camp School

  • Machine Total:  1088
  • Affidavit Ballots:  26
  • Curbside Ballots:  2
  • Absentee Ballots:   78; 8 initially rejected by poll workers
  • Missing signage:  general information on voting rights; instruction for affidavit voters; general information on prohibitions on fraud and misrepresentation
  • Improper voter assistance:  not all voters who received assistance (24), requested assistance or provided  a statutory reason for needing assistance
  • Violation of 150' rule:  voter allowed in precinct wearing a shirt, cap, pin, sticker or other campaign paraphernalia

 

 

Kamper Park:

  • Machine Total:  1086
  • Affidavit Ballots:  19
  • Curbside Ballots:  6
  • Absentee Ballots:  54
  • Improper voter assistance:  not all voters who received assistance, requested assistance or provided  a statutory reason for needing assistance
  • Affidavit voters were not provided written instruction as to how to determine if their ballot was counted and, if not, why
  • Violation of 150' rule:  voter allowed in precinct wearing a shirt, cap, pin, sticker or other campaign paraphernalia

 

Timberton:

  • Machine Total:  906
  • Affidavit Ballots:  3
  • Curbside Ballots:  2
  • Absentee Ballots:  62; 4 initially rejected by poll workers
  • Improper voter assistance:  66 voters received assistance; 41 requested assistance
  • Missing signage:  zero tape from 1 voting machine; instructions for first time, unverified voters (HAVA requirement); instructions for affidavit voters (HAVA requirement)
  • Affidavit ballots were not placed in the ballot box, but left unsecure on a table
  • Poll Managers did not read the name, address and precinct on each absentee ballot envelope

 

Dixie Pine Central:

  • Machine Total:  713
  • Affidavit Ballots:  9
  • Curbside Ballots:  4
  • Absentee Ballots:  63; 1 initially rejected by poll workers
  • Missing signage:  sample ballot
  • Improper voter assistance:  not all voters who received assistance (56), requested assistance (40) or provided  a statutory reason for needing assistance
  • Affidavit voters were not provided written instruction as to how to determine if their ballot was counted and, if not, why

 

Grace Christian:

  • Machine Total:  594
  • Affidavit Ballots:  6
  • Curbside Ballots:  1
  • Absentee Ballots:  51; 1 initially rejected by poll workers
  • Improper voter assistance:  Not all voters who received assistance, requested assistance and none provided a statutory reason for needing assistance
  • The reason for the rejected of the absentee ballot was not written on the absentee ballot envelope by the poll manager

 

USM Golf Course/West Hills:

  • Machine Total:  395
  • Affidavit Ballots:  7
  • Curbside Ballots:  0
  • Absentee Ballots:  34; 5 initially rejected by poll workers
  • Signage posted late
  • Missing signage:  instructions for affidavit voters
  • Improper voter assistance:  not all voters who received assistance (11), requested assistance (5) or provided  a statutory reason for needing assistance
  • Not all affidavit voters signed the receipt book
  • Ballot box padlocked (w/key in lock) but not sealed from beginning of day until close (seal delivered mid-afternoon by election commissioner)
  • Spoiled ballot(s) thrown in trash, contrary to statute, which requires spoiled ballots to be placed in separate envelope labeled "spoiled"
  • Poll Managers did not know it was their duty to review, accept and/or reject absentee ballots at precinct at close of polls
  • Poll Managers did not know how to handle a challenge to a voter

 

North Heights:

  • Machine Total:  76
  • Affidavit Ballots:  6
  • Curbside Ballots:  0
  • Absentee Ballots:  3; 0 rejected

 

 

SUMMARY

 

            "It is the duty of the Election Managers that the election is conducted fairly and agreeably to law, and they shall be judges of the qualifications of electors…" Miss. Code Ann.§23-15-233.  Municipal Election Commissioners conduct municipal elections.  They were appointed by the City Council and trained properly by the Secretary of State.  Poll Managers run the polling places.  The statute requires the Bailiff to "be present at the polling place…" and the polling place "shall be kept open and clear of all persons except the election officers and two (2) challengers of good conduct and behavior…" Miss. Code Ann. §23-15-245.  Our reports indicate this statute was not followed in numerous locations. 

 

            Our report indicates State law requirements regarding voter assistance were ignored and not followed in virtually all precincts, and as more specifically discussed below:

 

            Concerning the Rowan Precinct, a Ware observer stated:

 

"I was a poll watcher in the Rowan Precinct for much of the day, and almost all of the night.  There has been a lot of intrigue about Rowan, as it was the infamous last precinct to report, five hours after the polls closed.  The ballot box also arrived with no seal, an important violation of Mississippi election law.  And, it was the box that gave Dupree his margin of victory.

 

As a result, there have been some reckless rumors and reporting about the Rowan box.  I observed what happened.  While there are certainly some things that could have been, and should have been, done better, the final numbers matched the ones I recorded as they unfolded.

 

But what of the five hour delay in reporting results from Rowan?

 

The cause was more ignorance (probably genuine, not willful) of election procedures than conspiracy.  There are a lot of precincts just like Rowan across the state.  Five precincts yet again failed to process absentee ballots properly on election night, which mostly explains why the counting went on at City Hall until Saturday.

 

Rowan would have been a sixth.  I loaned one of the poll workers my copy of the training manual, complete with absentee ballot checklist.  If I hadn't, we might still be there.  Other poll workers spent more than an hour trying to close out the voting machines; still others simply sat and waited like the rest of us.  Our training has a ways to go."

 

            Our report substantially verifies these statements.  The report indicates the failure of Poll Mangers to follow State law in acceptance or rejection of absentee ballots ["marking accepted or rejected"] Miss. Code Ann. §§ 23-15-639, 23-15-641, plainly outlined in the Poll Manager Guide  provided to them.  This failure generated the opinion of the Attorney General that poll workers be recalled to accept or reject the absentee ballots at City Hall after the date of the election.  This fact and the failure to seal ballot boxes in accordance with State law and our instructions set off a four (4) day media frenzy which confused and frustrated voters and questioned the entire election process.

 

            We have received acknowledgement from the local officials, candidates, candidate representatives, and the public on "how much better" this election was than the first one.  We have also received complaints from the public that we "do something" and we failed those citizens because election officials did not follow our specific training and checklist on conducting the election.  While we devoted hundreds of hours in training and manpower to this second election, the operation of the second election did not meet all of the statutory requirements established by the Legislature.  Some of the reasons are clearly outlined in this report.

 

            Despite the extensive training, legal teams at the Agency, the Attorney General and the District Attorney, federal observers, multiple poll watchers for the candidates, and despite our Agency literally standing there, the operation of the polls and absentee balloting acceptance or rejection were flawed as indicated.  Mississippi law does not allow this Agency to take over any duty of an election commissioner, bailiff or poll managers or to conduct an election.  (Our Agency has found little support from members of the Legislature to allow anyone other than local citizens to conduct local elections.)

 

            This Agency has requested all absentee ballots be secured by the Municipal Clerk for the statutory period (twenty (20) days) and then provided to this Agency for review.  All reports have been turned over to the District Attorney and the Attorney General. The penalty for voter fraud is a fine up to Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000) and imprisonment in the county jail or State Penitentiary for up to five (5) years.

 

Copy of Elections Frequently Asked Questions:  http://sos.ms.gov/links/press_releases/Hattiesburg/FAQs%202013.pdf

 

Copy of Individual Observer Reports:

http://sos.ms.gov/links/press_releases/Hattiesburg/9%2024%202013%20Hattiesburg%20SE%20Observer%20Reports.pdf

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