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‘Human Error’ Caused Hinds County Election Day Ballot Shortages, Commissioners Say

Votings-rights advocates and others in Jackson, Miss., listen to Hinds County election commissioners on Dec. 18, 2023, explain the mistakes that led to ballot shortages on Election Day 2023. Photo by Shaunicy Muhammad

JACKSON, Miss.—The Hinds County Election Commission told a coalition of voting-rights advocates on Dec. 18 that “human error” and a mixup of ballot order forms for split precincts caused the ballot shortages on Nov. 7 that sparked national outrage and led to a judge ruling to keep voting precincts open late that Election Day. Commissioners and Hinds County Circuit Clerk officials met for a second time with the group to answer questions about what caused the debacle, to express their desire for additional training for poll workers and to discuss how advocates could collaborate with the commission to prevent another ballot shortage in future elections.

“We took a look and determined on our own that two reports were inverted,” Hinds County Commissioner for District 2 RaToya Gilmer McGee said. She explain that the ballot shortage happened because someone at the Hinds County Election Commission office entered incorrect information into their ballot ordering system. That oversight led to the commission ordering an incorrect number of ballots to cover the expected number of voters in Hinds County.

McGee held up the different ballot reports they used to order ballots and showed the incorrect form that was used. “Once we realized the issues, there was nothing we could do the day of the election,” she said.

McGee showing ballot reports to voting rights attorney Amir Badat
Hinds County Commissioner for District 2 RaToya Gilmer McGee, pictured left, shows ballot reports to voting-rights attorney Amir Badat. McGee said on Dec. 18, 2023, that “human error” led to the ballot shortages during the Nov. 7, 2023, election. Photo by Shaunicy Muhammad

The commission orders ballots ahead of elections from an out-of-state printing company, the commissioner explained. Once Election Day came and they realized the mistake, commissioners had to manually print additional ballots themselves.

“(It was) complete human error,” McGee said. “We hate that the citizens of Hinds County experienced that.”

At least nine voting precincts in Hinds County ran out of ballots on Election Day. WLBT reported on Nov. 7 that Hinds County District 5 Election Commissioner Shirley Varando had cited an “unexpectedly large turnout” as the problem. Varando did not attend either of the two public meetings the Election Commission held with the voting-rights coalition.

Closeup of District One Election Commissioner Kidada Brown speaking
District One Election Commissioner Kidada Brown (pictured) said in an interview with the Mississippi Free Press on Dec. 18, 2023, that Secretary of State Michael Watson still had not contacted the commissioners to discuss the ballot shortages. Photo by Shaunicy Muhammad

U.S. House Committee on House Administration Chairman Bryan Steil wrote a letter to the Hinds County Election Commission and Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson on Dec. 5 asking for an explanation of what happened and what their plan was to avoid a similar fiasco in the future.

“Under Mississippi law, the chair of each county election commission is given the duty and responsibility to print all ballots necessary for the election. Further, the chair is charged with ascertaining from the registrar at least 10 days before the election the number of voters registered in each precinct,” Steil wrote. “These serious issues of ballot shortages and incorrect ballot distribution appear to have occurred in spite of these strong requirements in Mississippi law, and I am concerned that these recent events may repeat themselves in the upcoming federal election.”

Steil told the election officials he expected an answer to his questions by Dec. 19.

Commissioners Plead For More In-Depth Training

Hinds County Election Commissioner for District 2 RaToya Gilmer McGee said she would like to see an overhaul of the training election commissioners receive, as well as updated policies and procedures that outline a step-by-step process of how to run the elections.

The Election Commission Association of Mississippi trains election commissioners once a year in January for elections and commissioners have access to a training manual, but several commissioners said at the meeting on Dec. 18 that the training is not enough.

“Once your commissioners change, any institutional knowledge that they have leaves with them,” McGee said. “We are trusted with a lot. Of course, I have the background as an attorney, but everyone doesn’t understand code and laws, but you would trust them to understand your elections. Training needs to change, and there needs to be a better way to vote in the state of Mississippi.”

“If there’s 82 counties, there’s 82 ways to do things. (Hinds County) was not the only county printing ballots on Election Day,” McGee said. “Yeah, we learned from it at the citizens’ expense. Yes, it happened. No, we’re not skating over it; we’re trying to move forward.”

Hinds County Election Commissioner for District 4 Yvonne Horton listening as others speak
Hinds County Election Commissioner for District 4 Yvonne Horton said election commissioners made a mistake when ordering ballots ahead of the 2023 general election and didn’t order enough ballots to cover registered voters. “It was a pure accident, no conspiracy on anybody’s part,” she said on Dec. 12, 2023. Photo by Shaunicy Muhammad

Both Election Commission Chairwoman Yvonne Horton and District 1 Election Commissioner Kidada Brown said in separate interviews with the Mississippi Free Press that the commission still had not heard from the Secretary of State Michael Watson about the ballot shortage, despite Watson’s statement on social media on Nov. 11 saying that he would be meeting with the Hinds County Election Commission.

“The Hinds Co. Election Commission had the same access to the training and materials received by the other 81 counties,” he wrote. “The HCEC has owned their mistake. They didn’t prepare the proper number of ballots for each ballot style needed. We’ll meet with them soon to get the details.”

Horton said on Dec. 12 that she expected a call from Watson about the shortage. “That was one of the things on Election Day that … wasn’t in the back of my mind; it was in the front part of my mind,” she said. “The secretary of state is going to call.”

Horton said that while she got one call from the secretary of state’s office on Nov. 7 about people campaigning too close to a door, there was no correspondence about the ballot shortages.

She also reiterated that no election commissioners intentionally caused the ballot shortage.

“I can assure you that it was not done on purpose. There’s no way in the world I would go through this on purpose,” Horton said. “But we’re going to work through this. We’re not running from it. It was a pure accident, no conspiracy on anybody’s part.”

Liz Johnson, a spokesperson for the secretary of state’s office, told the Mississippi Free Press on Dec. 19 that Assistant Secretary of State for Elections Kyle Kirkpatrick had been in contact with the Hinds County Election Commission about issues that happened on Election Day.

“Our office has discussed some specific issues with the Hinds County Election Commission since the Nov. 7 election. We have also reached out to schedule a meeting in January to include the newly elected commissioner,” Johnson said in a statement.

Johnson said Kirkpatrick spoke with “Ms. Horton and others” but could not confirm what days and times Kirkpatrick spoke with the commission or if they discussed the ballot shortages specifically.

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