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Legal organizations demand answers form Hinds County over ballot shortage issues

This story was originally published in Mississippi Today.

A coalition of civic and legal organizations on Thursday called for the Hinds County Election Commission to provide clear answers to voters on why numerous voting precincts in the state’s most populous county ran out of ballots during the Nov. 7 election. 

The group, which includes organizations like Mississippi Votes and the League of Women Voters, told the media that some of the consortium’s representatives have attempted to schedule a meeting with the election commissioners, but the county rejected that request.

Amir Badat, a voting rights attorney with the Legal Defense Fund, told reporters that the coalition is actively working to ensure that whatever issues the commission may have caused on Election Day will not happen in future elections. 

“We’d like to ensure that whatever things went wrong – which we’re still trying to investigate – which steps went wrong and which boxes weren’t checked are checked,” Badat said. 

The commissioners did not respond to a request for comment about the press conference or the demands from the coalition.

During Mississippi’s statewide general election, several Hinds County voting precincts ran out of ballots. The county is majority Black and an area that traditionally votes for Democratic candidates. 

People waited in line for hours to vote as local officials attempted to replenish ballots and deliver them to polling places. It’s unclear how many people left without voting or decided not to travel to polling precincts because of the confusion from the shortages.

The Mississippi Center for Justice, a legal nonprofit, recently submitted public records requests with the county and the commission to gather more information about the ballot issues. If the commission does not comply with the records request, the center said it was prepared to use legal action to obtain those records. 

While the coalition’s Thursday morning efforts were mainly focused on the Hinds County ballot shortages, it also highlighted that other issues happened in other parts of the state such as people with mobility issues not having adequate access to enter and exit polling precincts. 

“It’s not a Hinds County problem in and of itself,” Harya Tarekegn, the director of advocacy and policy for the Mississippi Center for Justice, said. “It’s a problem all across this state.” 

Federal officials are seeking answers from the county. Bryan Steil, the chairman of the Committee on House Administration, sent a letter to the commission on Tuesday asking them to provide Congress information on what steps it has taken to correct the Election Day issues. 

“Situations like this reported ballot shortage and the distribution of incorrect ballot styles have the potential to damage voter confidence at a time when we can least afford it,” Steil wrote. 

In the meantime, the commission will hold its regular meeting at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 12 at 701 Commerce St in Jackson. It will allow the public to offer comments about their experiences during Election Day.