Pearl River County has high voter turnout, large number of absentee ballots

Published 10:41 pm Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Update: No unofficial election results from Pearl River County will be released until Wednesday, said Circuit Clerk Nance Stokes.

Voters in Pearl River County were at the polls as early as 5 a.m. Tuesday morning, eager to cast their ballots, but by 10 p.m. that night, unofficial results were not available from the Pearl River County Circuit Clerk’s office.

A line at the Margaret Reed Crosby Memorial Library stretched far past the building by 6:50 a.m. At midday a line of voters was still wrapped around the Pearl River Central Middle School.

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When polls closed at 7 p.m., 170 voters were still lined up at the FZ Goss precinct, said Election Commissioner Reggie Hanberry. Poll workers were not able to close that precinct until 9:15 p.m., he said, in order to allow each voter to cast a ballot.

Three precincts still had not brought results back by 10 p.m.; FZ Goss, Carriere 3 and Carriere 5.

In previous years, election results are typically released as precincts come in on election night and are counted.

However, this year results in Pearl River County were not expected to be released until very late in the evening, and that later changed to by Wednesday, due to a change in how the county processes absentee ballots, said Circuit Clerk Nance Stokes. As a result, no results were available by press time Tuesday.

Stokes said that in previous years, poll workers scanned absentee ballots at their respective precincts, but recent changes in state election law meant that the county Resolution Board did not start scanning the absentee ballots until after the polls closed at 7 p.m.

“Twenty-six precincts were doing it, now you have seven people,” said Election Commissioner Reggie Hanberry.

Stokes said that there is one jump drive used to hold the dataset for absentee ballots for all 26 precincts, so she could not release results from individual precincts until absentee ballots for all 26 precincts were scanned in. She has to include all of the absentee ballots that have been received for that precinct before releasing any results during election night due to changes in state election law, Stokes said.

As of 9 p.m. all of the absentee ballots the Circuit Clerk’s office had received for District 1 were scanned, but the remaining four Districts still had to be scanned, said Stokes. Although all but four of the 26 precincts had brought in ballots by 9:30 p.m., Stokes said that she could not release any results from precincts without their respective absentee ballots being scanned. She was unsure when the task of scanning absentee ballots would be complete.

Stokes said that her office sent out 4,852 absentee ballots since Sept. 21, double the number in the previous presidential election. Of that total, 230 absentee ballots remain to be received back at the office via mail. As long as the ballots are postmarked by Tuesday, Nov. 3 and received by Nov. 10, they will still be processed.

In the county courthouse, the Resolution Board determined whether to accept or reject absentee ballots throughout the day, but counting did not begin until 7 p.m.

Poll watchers trained by Mississippi Voter Protection watched the process in the courthouse. A poll watcher with the Democratic Party, Debbie Craig, said poll watchers did raise several small objections at voting precincts Tuesday concerning a few poll workers not wearing PPE and people wearing “MAGA” hats inside voting precincts. Clothing that promotes a candidate is not allowed inside voting precincts.

Update: Unofficial results from Pearl River County’s election Tuesday will not be released until sometime Wednesday, said Circuit Clerk Nance Stokes. Changes in how absentee ballots are processed mean that unofficial results will not be released until all absentee ballots that have been received are scanned, she said.

Due to the high number of absentee ballots cast, the Resolution Board stopped counting them at approximately 11 p.m. Tuesday and was expected to resume their count at 8 a.m. Wednesday. Election Commissioner Reggie Hanberry estimated there were still 1,300 to 1,400 absentee ballots left to be scanned.