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A pair of hands can be seen cutting out the "I Voted in Hinds County" stickers to present the voters at the polling precinct
Duvalier Malone writes that low voter turnout affects minorities, threatens Mississippi's democracy and delegitimizes the idea that government officials reflect their populace. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Mississippi Officials Made 164 Voting Precinct Changes Since November 2022

Mississippi election officials have made 164 voting precinct changes since November 2022, leaving voters with slightly fewer voting precincts statewide and dozens moved after the completion of post-Census redistricting efforts, a Mississippi Free Press investigation has found.

The Mississippi Free Press found that statewide, local election officials moved 95 preexisting precincts to new polling locations; closed 41 old precincts; and opened 28 new precincts. There are now 1,748 voting precincts statewide, down 13 since the November 2022 general. Click or scroll to the three tables below to see full lists of which voting places have moved, closed and newly opened. We have separately published a complete list of all precincts statewide.

The investigation also found dozens of discrepancies between information in the Mississippi Secretary of State’s system and what county officials provided, which could send some voters to the wrong address; we sought to rectify those conflicts by contacting dozens of county officials.

Lawrence County Slashed 46% of Precincts

One small county accounted for about 85% of the net decrease in voting precincts statewide; Lawrence County in the southeast part of the state closed 12 old precincts and opened just one new one, resulting in a net decrease of 11 voting precincts. That leaves the county with just 13 voting precincts, down from 24 during last year’s primaries and general election.

Other counties closed a significant number of old precincts but counterbalanced those closings by opening new precincts after redistricting. For example, Jackson County on the coast closed seven precincts, but opened six new ones; Pearl River County closed three precincts but opened four; Harrison County closed three and opened one. Only Lawrence County slashed its total precincts nearly in half.

While counties often do gain or lose precincts due to population changes and redistricting, Lawrence County’s population only declined 9% between the 2010 and 2020 Censuses, from 12,929 residents to 11,713—a far smaller decline than its overall 46% decrease in total voting precincts.

Reached for comment Monday afternoon after this story published, Lawrence County Circuit Clerk James Brister told the Mississippi Free Press that the main reason they shuttered so many precincts is “we had too many.” Despite having a population less than half the size of Marion County to the southeast, Lawrence County had 24 precincts last year while Marion County only had 22.

Brister said that when Lawrence County first began using touchscreens several years before he took office as circuit clerk in 2005, the officials who preceded him had a problem: With the new touch screens, the county was using multiple ballot styles. Rather than train poll workers at each precinct how to handle multiple kinds of ballots, he said, “they just created more precincts,” with each precinct only using one kind of ballot style to make it easier to train poll workers. (Since 2020, counties have shifted to using a ballot system that uses paper and scanners).

“We got to the point where we were running into problems getting enough poll workers for those precincts. We had some precincts that didn’t have but 80-something registered voters,” the circuit clerk said. “So we just revamped whenever redistricting came. … It was a prime good time to condense some small precincts and just get them down to something we could handle.” The closed precincts were merged into others, including four that were merged into a single precinct, Brister explained.

Identifying Changes Proves Difficult

The 163 polling place changes recorded are the most the Mississippi Free Press has found between two cycles since the publication began tracking changes ahead of the November 2022 election. Previous investigations found 55 voting precinct changes between the 2020 primaries and 2020 general election; 70 polling place changes between the November 2020 general election and the June 2022 primaries; and 28 changes between the June 2022 primaries and November 2022 general election. (We did not track changes for the 2021 municipal elections, because municipal elections used different precincts than county-level, statewide and federal elections). More changes were expected this year, though, due to redistricting.

Due to redistricting, some voters will be voting in different precincts this year even if their former precinct and polling place remain open. Changes to district shape and size from redrawn maps is not included in the changes we’ve listed, though new precincts created and old ones closed as a result of redrawing are included.

Unlike many other states, the State of Mississippi does not provide an up-to-date, comprehensive list of polling places to the public. To identify the most recent changes, the Mississippi Free Press requested information from election officials in all 82 counties and made a public-records request for a PDF copy of an Aug. 1, 2023, Statewide Elections Management System report.

The team also requested lists from county officials, who are tasked with keeping their counties’ entries in SEMS up-to-date, to check against the information listed in the statewide system. As in past years, this revealed dozens of discrepancies that required follow-up calls with county election officials.

We sought to address those conflicts between the different levels of government and verify the information as best we could, but cannot guarantee that all 1,748 entries in our list are accurate; we recommend calling your local election officials to verify any changes in your polling location.

As in past years, the investigation found many cases in which the changes were not reflected in the Statewide Elections Management System (which the Mississippi Secretary of State’s polling-place locator tool relies on to give voters accurate information) or cases where information the State provided conflicted with information counties provided. Errors in SEMS risk sending voters to the wrong polling place, an issue many voters reported in 2020 and 2022.

In response to letters from voting rights groups concerned about the polling place issues the Mississippi Free Press identified in previous elections and proposing solutions, Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson said last year that “Mississippi is a bottom-up state” and that he cannot unilaterally fix the issues.

“The role of the Secretary of State’s office is to assist counties in conducting elections, which includes training election officials, collecting campaign finance and lobbying reports, collecting election returns, providing assistance to local election officials in carrying out their election-related responsibilities and administering the Statewide Election Management System (“SEMS”),” he wrote the voting rights groups last year. “… Because the role of my office is limited to the administrative process of housing the SEMS database and the data stored thereon, any rules promulgated by our office would likewise be restricted.”

Polling Place Locator Updated, But Issues Persist

The Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office announced an update to the polling place locator on July 31. Previously, state election officials had to update the information in the polling place locator manually by downloading the data from SEMS and uploading it to the locator, resulting in delays between the time local election officials updated SEMS and the time that information would be accurately reflected when voters entered their addresses in the polling place locator. With the new update, the polling place locator updates in real-time as soon as local election officials make changes to SEMS.

“Our office continues to find solutions for Mississippians to ensure they have the necessary tools and resources for a smooth Election Day process,” Secretary of State Michael Watson said in a statement on July 31.

Michael Watson speaking at a mic with one hand partially raised in gesture
Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson said in a statement on July 31, 2023, that his office “continues to find solutions for Mississippians to ensure they have the necessary tools and resources for a smooth Election Day process.” Photo by Ashton Pittman

But while the process ensures any accurate updates on polling place locations are immediately available to voters, it does not prevent voters from being sent to the wrong polling place if local officials fail to update SEMS or update it with incorrect information.

Additionally, the webpage for the old Mississippi polling place locator, which shows up on search engine queries, remains active but will give voters outdated information (as these reporters learned while trying to find their own polling place information). The new polling place tool is available on sos.ms.gov on its “My Election Day” page. It includes information for county-level precincts used for federal and statewide elections as well as municipal precincts (the next municipal elections will not be held until 2025).

The My Election Day page includes a warning that “location information is provided and updated by local election officials” and says “it is recommended that you confirm your polling place with your county circuit clerk” using their contact information. During our reporting, though, we found that some county election officials accidentally provided inaccurate information based on old lists. In the past, the Mississippi Free Press has received conflicting polling place information from election commissioners and circuit clerks in the same county.

Tables of Polling Place Changes

Primaries Are Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023

Voters go to the polls for Mississippi’s primaries on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, to choose nominees to represent the Democratic and Republican parties on the Nov. 7, 2023, general election ballot for various statewide, regional, legislative and local offices.

Since Mississippi does not have party registration, voters can choose to cast a ballot in either the Republican or Democratic primary, but cannot subsequently vote in the opposite party’s runoff if one is held on Aug. 29. Voting in a primary does not require a voter to cast a ballot for that party’s nominee in the general election.

When they arrive at the polls, voters must bring an acceptable form of photo identification, such as a driver’s license, state-issued photo ID, U.S. passport, government employee ID card, student ID from a state university or college, firearms license, tribal ID or a Mississippi Voter Identification Card. Information on how residents can obtain a free voter-identification card from their local circuit clerk’s office is available here.

Voters are eligible to cast a ballot if they registered at least 30 days before the election. Secretary of State Michael Watson has repeatedly urged voters to verify their vote registration is active by checking online at this link.

More information on voting is available on the Secretary of State’s FAQ section and Voter Information Guide. The Mississippi Free Press has also published a voter’s guide for the August 2023 primaries.

Update: After this story published, Hinds County announced two primary-eve polling place changes for Precinct 01 and the Pinehaven precinct. Those changes are now reflected in the table for moved polling precincts and in the full precinct list.

Editor’s Note: The Black Voters Matter Fund provided support for the Mississippi Trusted Election Project’s precinct-change research.

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