Miss. voters face long lines, machine problems

Published 2:38 pm Thursday, November 6, 2008

Malfunctioning machines and long lines were some of the problems voters encountered on Election Day in Mississippi.

Attorney General Jim Hood said his office had received reports about improperly calibrated voting machines in seven counties.

“We instructed circuit clerks to shut down any questionable machines until their technicians could get them back to working properly,” Hood said in an e-mailed statement.

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In Madison County, Elections Commissioner Sue Sautemeister confirmed that a machine at the Ridgeland Recreational Center precinct was turned off for four hours after a voter told poll workers her ballot printout was different than her selections.

The voter was a law professor, said Charles Griffin, one of 250 attorneys working with a coalition of nonpartisan groups on the Protect the Vote 2008 campaign. Griffin said there were 24 votes on the machine when poll workers shut it down.

Sautemeister said the voter’s ballot was canceled and she was allowed to vote on another machine. The other votes would be counted, Sautemeister said.

She wouldn’t say if the voter had selected Democratic or Republican candidates.

Sautemeister said poll workers set up the machines on Monday. She said some machines had calibration problems.

Voting rights advocates also said they’ve gotten reports of machines casting votes for candidates other than the ones selected in Hinds County, but an elections official denied the claim.

“Some people have reported they cast their vote for a Democrat and it would be a Republican who showed up on a machine,” said Allyn Brooks-LaSure, who working with the state Democratic Party’s effort to handle voting problems. “We’re sending more people over there. We’ve mentioned it to the secretary of state.”

Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson said similar complaints were made to the hotline being operated by the coalition of groups that includes his organization.

Connie Cochran, chairwoman of the Hinds County Election Commission, said she had not heard about any machines flipping votes.

“I find that difficult to believe,” Cochran said. “I don’t think that’s true.”

Cochran said there were some instances of machines not being plugged in or power strips shut off.

The state has nearly 195,000 newly registered voters, a number largely driven by the historic presidential race between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.

Voters also are choosing races for the U.S. House and Senate and judicial posts.

The Department of Justice sent poll monitors to Bolivar, Jefferson Davis, Jones, Kemper, Leake, Neshoba, Newton, Noxubee, Washington, Wilkinson and Winston counties. The federal agency has regularly sent election observers around the country since the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965.

Along with the coalition, the state’s Democratic and Republican parties and the office of Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann have attorneys and staff on call to intervene if there are any problems at the polls.

“Our office is doing all that we can to ensure this election is run as efficiently as possible,” Hosemann said in a statement.

The coalition has 250 attorneys in place around the state to offer advice or intervene at precincts where confrontations between voters and poll workers might occur.

Yumeka Rushing, director of Protect the Vote 2008, said some voters might be confused about their rights regarding identification, affidavit ballots and voting assistance.

“Sadly, there is a historical pattern of intimidation aimed at certain groups of voters,” Rushing said in a news release.