GREENE COUNTY, Miss. (WKRG) – When polls open November 8, election commissioners hope voters will appreciate the seamless process to exercise their constitutional right.
To get to that point, it takes months of preparation from at least 65 people in Greene County, Mississippi (pop. 13,630).
Circuit Clerk Cecelia Bounds is charged with administrative duties in overseeing the election, including registering citizens to vote, along with two deputy clerks.
The five-member Election Commission meets on a weekly basis or even more frequently to prepare for elections. The commission maintains the voter rolls, hires and trains Poll Managers, prepares ballots, tests and upkeeps voting machines and certifies results.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with increased publicity and scrutiny of election officials in some areas, administrators across the country have often struggled to recruit volunteers for Election Day.
“We’ve trained an adequate number to fill in just in case we have emergencies and everything, but it’s just difficult to get them at times,” said Greene County Circuit Clerk Cecelia Bounds. “We try to take care of the ones we’ve got.”
It takes 52 Poll Managers (commonly called poll workers), four at each of the county’s 13 precinct polling places, to carry out Election Day. They’re tasked with ensuring a safe, secure space to cast ballots while making sure all prospective voters are registered and meet state requirements.
This will be the first general election since 2005 the county is using paper ballots. The state previously provided electronic voting machines for use in all 82 counties. In April, Governor Tate Reeves signed a bill requiring every county to revert back to paper ballots by 2024.
Greene County first implemented the paper ballots during a special election in one precinct last year.
“I trusted the electronic voting machines because we sit here and program and test them and never had a problem,” Bound said. “But there’s some more voter confidence in [paper ballots]. I feel better knowing my voters feel better.”
While paper balloting may give a greater sense of security, there’s also an increased likelihood for human error. Electronic machines, for example, wouldn’t allow voters to choose multiple candidates for a single office.
That’s where yet another group, a five-member Resolution Board, appointed by the Election Commission, comes in.
The Resolution Board must manually review all damaged, defective, blank or overvoted ballots rejected by the tabulating equipment, determine the intent of the voter and record the vote intended by the voter.
While the tabulation machine is set to only count ballots with a completely filled in oval for one candidate per office, the board members can examine other marks the voter made on the ballot to determine who they intended to vote for.
If a race is left blank or it isn’t clear who the voter intended to choose, the rest of the ballot, not that individual race, is counted.
Board members will meet at 5 p.m. on Election Day in the county courtroom to start processing all absentee ballots to be counted when polls close at 7 p.m. 110 county voters requested absentee ballots as of October 23.
Requirements for absentee ballots include:
- Be signed across the seal by the voter with a signature that reasonably matches the ballot application
- Envelope signed by a witness (notary or circuit clerk’s office)
- Have an accompanying absentee ballot application signed and acknowledged by circuit clerk
- Voter must still be a qualified elector on Election Day in the precinct for where the ballot was requested
If absentee ballots do not meet any one of the requirements, it will be rejected. Every single absentee ballot must be marked as accepted or rejected by the board. Their decision is final.
County Election Commissioners already know of one person who died after requesting an absentee ballot. If they mailed it in before they passed, it will be up to the Resolution Board to make sure the ballot is rejected.
When processing absentee ballots, the name, address and precinct as shown on each envelope and application is announced aloud to make sure it matches with the voter rolls. It also gives board members and the public a right to challenge the validity of the ballot, usually on the basis that a voter may not actually permanently reside in the county.
In the rare case of a challenge, the board must unanimously accept the ballot. If any member has reservations, the ballot is marked as challenged and left to be decided by the courts.
During past elections with paper balloting, the officials could be up until 3 a.m. counting ballots at the courthouse. In the new system, voters will insert their ballot into a tabulation machine at each precinct to speed up the process.
Commissioners hopes to be headed home by 10 p.m.