By CARL SMITH
Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk Angie McGinnis met with election officials Monday and discussed various irregularities observed during the Aug. 2 primaries, which included the confiscation of approximately 45 pre-marked Democratic ballot proofs given to voters.
In an email, McGinnis said complaints were also made about aggressive poll watchers, candidates who were campaigning too close to polling locations and questionable voter assistance.
District 2 Election Commissioner Sissy Smitherman said a group of individuals outside of polling stations was observed handing pre-marked Democratic ballots to voters on the day of the primary who arrived on church busses as they approached the polling location.
The pre-marked ballots were confiscated from the Osborn and Hickory Grove precincts. Smitherman said the proofs were marked indicating votes for Johnny DuPree, Bill Bambach, Teresa Davis-Roberson, Charlie Sanders and Lisa Wynn in their respective races.
“I told them on the night of the election this was illegal,” Smitherman said. “Any voter should know that when they get a ballot which is already marked.”
Sample ballots can be provided to voters, but because the ballot proofs were pre-marked in certain candidates’ favor, they were considered campaign material. Mississippi Code states no campaign literature or signs are allowed within 150 feet of any polling location’s entrance.
McGinnis said the ballot proofs were not supposed to be used outside of her office. If a sample ballot is given to the public, it is supposed to be clearly marked as such. The ballot proofs in question were not marked accordingly. She said the identity of the individual who removed the ballot proofs from her office without marking them as sample ballots is still unknown. Proofing ballots, McGinnis said, are used as a basis for master lists, absentee and emergency ballots.
“No one here ever would have thought someone would have taken a ballot proof and used it in this manner,” McGinnis said. “We can only assume that the individual got it to use as a sample ballot.”
McGinnis met with Oktibbeha County Democratic Chairman Albert Gore and Election Commission Chairman Myles Carpenter Monday, and she said the election commission wants “to give the public the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t know election law and therefore meant no harm in the behaviors exhibited.”
In regard to other post-election complaints received by McGinnis’ office, Carpenter said some poll watchers “got a little too close to the election.”
“They aren’t supposed to interfere, but they were looking over the backs of poll workers,” he said. “We also had some poll watchers greeting people as they came up to the polls. When you greet people like that, it kind of borders on campaigning.”
Voter assistance, too, was another problem Carpenter said needed to be addressed. He said there are three reasons someone can ask for poll assistance: blindness, illiteracy or physical disability.
“There were too many instances of someone coming with someone else saying they needed assistance when they didn’t,” Carpenter said. “Our poll workers were intimidated by this. Our bailiffs should have stepped up. It kind of got out of hand.”