Report criticizes state on security of votes

Published 1:00 pm Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mississippi is one of the three lowest-ranked states in a national report that evaluates two parts of the electoral system — voting machines used by people who cast their ballots in person and long-distance voting methods used by military people or other Americans living overseas. The report was issued this past week by the Rutgers Law School Constitutional Litigation Clinic and two open-government advocacy groups, the Common Cause Education Fund and the Verified Voting Foundation. It’s available online at .

“This report tries to answer one essential question,” it says. “In the event of voting systems failures, how prepared is each state to ensure that every voter can vote and that every vote cast is counted?”

Mississippi, Louisiana and Delaware were the only states receiving an overall ranking of “inadequate,” the lowest mark on a scale that went up to “needs improvement,” “generally good” and “good.”

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After the problem-plagued presidential election of 2000, the federal government made money available to states to replace outdated voting equipment. Seventy-seven of Mississippi’s 82 counties use identical electronic touch-screen voting machines that were purchased in 2005, and most of the machines make paper records that can be used for auditing accuracy of vote counting. The paper was added by then-Secretary of State Eric Clark after some voters and elections officials expressed concerns that machines might malfunction.

DeSoto, Harrison, Hinds, Lee and Yalobusha use other types of voting machines.

Mississippi’s current secretary of state, Delbert Hosemann, said most counties have a paper trail attached to their voting machines, but some have received U.S. Justice Department approval to remove it. Local officials said paper caused machines to jam, particularly on humid days.

The national report says Mississippi needs to have paper on all machines to allow audits. It also says all Mississippi counties need backup plans in case electronic machines fail. Hosemann said such plans exist: Counties are required to have paper ballots available.

Hosemann tells The Associated Press that he takes exception to the national report, particularly its criticism of how overseas military votes are handled. “Our process is very secure,” Hosemann said.

Mississippi is one of 25 states that allow overseas military ballots to be transmitted by Internet, email or fax, and the report says those methods are “undermining the accuracy, integrity and security of remote voting.” It says such transmission could leave ballots subject to hacking. The report notes that the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 2009 requires states to make absentee ballots available in electronic form at least 45 days in advance.

Hosemann was one of five secretaries of state who traveled to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait before the 2008 presidential election. They discussed ways to deliver ballots to people who might be moving in and out of combat. Hosemann said he told service members that any ballot transmitted electronically might be seen by a local election clerk because a clerk would print it and put it in a secure envelope.

“I asked that question 100 times and every single time they said, ‘It doesn’t matter to me. It’s more important to me that my ballot be cast,’” Hosemann said. “They felt very comfortable in using that process.”

Military voters also can send paper ballots by expedited mail.

Hosemann notes Mississippi was one of 15 states recently recognized for helping military voters by, among other things, making ballots available electronically. That recognition came from the Military Voting Project ( ), which is part of The Legacy Foundation, a free-enterprise and limited-government group founded by Republican Christopher Rants, a former speaker of the Iowa House.