Sometime between the 2018 national midterm elections and Mississippi’s 2019 statewide elections, Yalobusha County election officials had a problem: A bridge in Coffeeville, Miss., had gone out, preventing about half of its roughly 150 registered voters from reaching the precinct’s polling place at the Scuna Valley Fire Station.
Officials solved the problem by splitting the precinct in two, with Vann’s Mill North precinct at the old location and Vann’s Mill South precinct at Clear Springs Fire Station, an official in the Yalobusha County Circuit Clerk’s office told the Mississippi Free Press on Monday.
Over four years after making the change, though, the statewide database voters rely on when looking up their polling place on the Mississippi Secretary of State’s online tool still does not list an address for the Vann’s Mill South precinct.
The Mississippi Free Press’ latest investigation and an examination of data in the Statewide Election Management System found similar issues with SEMS showing missing, incomplete, incorrect or old addresses for 92 precincts across almost a quarter of the State’s counties.
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 polling-place changes and problems, the Mississippi Free Press requested a PDF copy of an Oct. 5, 2023, SEMS report; the reporters also gathered polling place lists from county election officials, compared them to the information in SEMS and made calls to correct discrepancies.
Since 2020, the Mississippi Free Press has repeatedly interrogated SEMS, identifying voting-precinct changes the secretary of state’s office did not know about and attempting to publicly correct errors to provide the public with accurate voting information. This work has prompted voting-rights organizations to urge Secretary of State Michael Watson to make changes; he has repeatedly said it is up to local election officials to keep SEMS updated with accurate polling-place information and that he does not have the authority to enforce accurate reporting without the Legislature passing a new law.
“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 in 2022. “… 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.”
In total, the Mississippi Free Press found that 63 voting precincts had incomplete addresses, three had incorrect addresses, 24 were still displaying old addresses and two listed no address at all.
Among the 21 counties where the Mississippi Free Press identified address errors, Jones County in South Mississippi had the most precincts by far with 30 errors identified, followed by Oktibbeha County (11); Simpson County (11); Hinds County (6); Tunica County (6); Attala County (5); Bolivar County (5); Perry County (3); Humphreys County (2); Scott County (2); Walthall County (2); Forrest County (1); Kemper County (1); Madison County (1); Rankin County (1); Sharkey County (1); Smith County (1); Washington County (1); Coahoma County (1); and Yalobusha County (1).
You can see the total number of address errors by county in the infographic below.
You can examine the individual precincts where we identified problems in the address field and why in the table below:
The Vann’s Mill South in Yalobusha County was one of the two precincts with no address listed but the Mississippi Free Press obtained it after contacting the circuit clerk’s office and included it in our statewide list of voting precincts. We have also made efforts to fill in incomplete or missing address information for other precincts in our list of all polling locations, though we have not been able to do so in all instances.
Other data-entry errors exist that we did not count here but which nevertheless can cause issues for voters and for publications like this one that attempt to provide information to the public. For example, some county officials duplicate the “precinct name” in the “polling place” field, which should be used to name the building that hosts the precinct. In some cases, election officials instead place the “polling place” name in the address field, which can cause problems for geographic information systems tools.
Others add directions or other information to the address field (e.g., a Scott County precinct’s address field includes the information “NEXT TO KRACKER STATION” in the address field). While potentially helpful to some voters, this can also cause problems for GIS tools. Such incorrect data entry in the address field has frustrated this publication’s past efforts to create visual maps with pinpoints to show the locations of voting precincts, for example.
Previous MFP 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; 28 changes between the June 2022 primaries and the November 2022 general election; and 164 changes between the November 2022 election and the August 2023 primaries.
This time around, we found significantly fewer precinct changes than in the past, confirming only four precinct changes, including two in Hinds County, one in Smith County and the one that reverted in Sharkey County. You can see the list complete with addresses below.
The August 2023 precinct changes followed 2020 Census redistricting efforts. The August investigation found significant changes in several counties, with Lawrence County slashing 46% of its precincts.
If you did not vote in the August primaries, your voting precinct may have changed. You can check our list of precinct changes that occurred between November 2022 and August 2023 here. (Note that one of the precincts we identified as moving in August—Rolling Fork First District—has since moved back to its original location at the Sharkey County Health Department).
We cannot guarantee that we uncovered all polling-place changes, however; in our work, we’ve often run into instances where some local election officials were uninformed about changes or were using outdated lists. After we published our August list of voting-precinct changes, Hinds County also changed two voting precincts hours before voters headed to the polls, citing accessibility issues.
Voting Ends at 7 p.m. on Nov. 7
The polls for statewide, regional, legislative and local offices are open in Mississippi from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. today, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023.
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. 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 meet the candidates guide for the November 2023 statewide elections.
Editor’s Note: The Black Voters Matter Fund provided support for the Mississippi Trusted Election Project’s precinct-change research.