A comparison of the number of registered voters and 2000 Census numbers by county in Mississippi gets weird when you get to Jefferson Davis County. That’s because the number of registered voters far exceeds the total population.
According to the 2000 Census, Jefferson Davis County has a population of 8,960. Its number of registered voters is 120 percent higher, at 10,809.
Clearly, the county’s voter rolls are outdated, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann says. The issue got Hosemann’s attention last March. In April he dispatched two of his employees to each county whose number of registered voters either exceeded or was abnormally close to the overall population. The returns were less than satisfactory.
“It resulted in less action than I would have hoped,” Hosemann said.
Hosemann attributed the bloated voter rolls to local-level politics. Purging voter rolls requires a majority vote of a county’s election commissioners and cannot be done 90 days before a federal election.
Even if you can overcome bickering among circuit clerks and election commissioners, the low pay election commissioners receive and their relative lack of skills to purge a computer-generated voter roll combine to keep Mississippi’s rolls from giving an accurate picture of living, breathing registered voters, said Hosemann.
“So much of this is ingrained,” Hosemann said. “Some (election commissioners) don’t understand what needs to be done. Some of the circuit clerks don’t trust the election commissioners and won’t give them ready access to the computers.”
In September, in anticipation of problems associated with inaccurate voter rolls, Hosemann met with the Mississippi Board of Elections and encouraged members to self-police the voter-certification process. No major incidents of voter fraud were reported to Hosemann’s office on election day or immediately afterward. “The biggest news was that there wasn’t any news,” Hosemann said Wednesday.
Hosemann will submit a proposal to the legislature that will create a rating system similar to the one the State Department of Education uses to determine if a school district requires a state take-over. Under Hosemann’s bill, if a county has more registered voters than total population, the secretary of state’s office will notify the county and request the rolls be purged. If they are not, employees from the secretary of state’s office would take over a county’s voter rolls just like officials with the department of education do with an underperforming school district.
Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .