Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann recently released two reports reviewing the 2011 elections and detailing Mississippi's absentee voting trends. Both reports revealed numerous violations of state election law in more than a dozen counties across the state.

The overview of the 2011 primary and general elections details allegations of improper voter assistance as well as illegal campaigning within 150 feet of polling locations.

At the Tunica County Justice Court Building precinct, observers described two individuals who brought in groups of voters, and in full view of the poll workers, walked voters to machines and voted on their behalf. Again in Tunica at the Evansville Precinct, an "organizer" escorted voters from church vans to the voting machines and stood watch over each person as they cast their votes.

Sometimes voters truly need assistance. I've seen disabled elderly voters take painful steps to a machine, supported by a family member, in order cast their vote. It reaffirms the civic duty of voting when a son or grandson whispers the names on a ballot to an elderly woman, she whispers back her choice and he points to the name so she can make the selection. How infuriating that her vote may be canceled out by an "assister" who hijacks the ballot of another voter who simply stands at a machine while an "organizer" makes the selections and votes.

Improper voter assistance - someone helping a voter make their selections without the voter declaring the reason (law requires the voter to be blind, disabled or illiterate for assistance) - was observed 100 times in Copiah County. Other counties also made the report for multiple illegal voting assistance infractions: Monroe (51), Noxubee (42), Attala (25), Franklin (25), Hancock (15) and Yazoo (10). The Secretary of State even requested an individual be removed from a precinct in Grenada for "soliciting voters to assist while standing inside and just outside the polling place."

Absentee ballot reform, bloated election rolls
and the conduct of elections should be addressed
in a comprehensive revision of Mississippi election laws.

Attala and Holmes counties were cited for improper curbside voting - the procedure of taking a ballot or machine outside the precinct to someone unable to make it into the voting area. Other counties identified in the report include Leflore, Simpson, Quitman, Hinds and Neshoba.

The report noted 16 Mississippi counties have more registered voters on the roll than voting age residents according to the 2010 Census.

Hosemann's other report focuses on absentee voting trends. It does not identify specific violations of law but does mention 101 absentee ballot applications in 15 selected counties which did not note the reason for using the absentee ballot as required under Mississippi law. It also reports during the 2011 election a number of cases where ballots were not properly witnessed or notarized as required by law, yet still counted as valid by county election commissions. But this informational report generally reviewed counted absentee ballots and not those rejected through the regular election process as invalid.

Still, absentee voting fraud is a documented trick for illegal electioneering and Hosemann reports that in 2011, 21 counties during the primary and 13 counties during the general election saw an absentee voting rate of 10 percent or higher; both about double the statewide average of a 5 to 6 percent absentee voting rate.

Furthermore, while there is no legal limit on the number of absentee ballots an individual may witness in Mississippi, multiple ballots witnessed by the same person can be suspicious. For example, in Lowndes County during the 2010 general election, 350 ballots were witnessed by six individuals with one of those people handling 163 ballots alone. Hosemann's report noted Alcorn, Clay, Kemper, Leflore, Quitman, Sharkey and Tallahatchie counties each had examples where a single person witnessed more than 10 absentee ballots during the 2011 primary election.

Hosemann noted that while his office can report on these findings, it is the responsibility of the Attorney General and local district attorneys to prosecute election fraud and his office refers suspected violations to those officials when appropriate.

Absentee ballot reform, bloated election rolls and the conduct of elections should be addressed in a comprehensive revision of Mississippi election laws. Senate Elections Chairman Chris McDaniel (R-Ellisville) has proposed a task force to study and make recommendations to revise our election laws. The task force - comprised of the Senate Elections Committee Chairman, the House Apportionment and Elections Committee Chairman, three appointees each from the Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House, a representative from the Secretary of State and Attorney General, and an appointee made each by the Mississippi Circuit Clerk's Association and the Election Commissioners Association of Mississippi - would be given a year to conduct the study, hold hearings and make recommendations. McDaniel's proposal (Senate Bill 2772) is currently in the Senate Elections Committee and Senate Rules Committee.

Such a task force will benefit from these and previous reports on Mississippi elections produced by Hosemann's office.

Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. Contact him at