Watson: Mississippi elections: Easy to vote, hard to cheat

Note: The following is an opinion column provided by Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson

Safeguarding Mississippi elections has always been important to me, which is why I made it a priority in our 2019 campaign for Secretary of State. I traveled the state visiting with many of you who expressed concerns for maintaining integrity in our elections. Upon taking office, we went right to work to restore Mississippi voters’ confidence and make it harder to cheat. Over the last three years, we have delivered on implementing many safeguards and will continue to do so. Thankfully, the Mississippi legislature passed, and the Governor signed into law, Rep. Brent Powell’s House Bill 1310, which capped off our legislative agenda for our first term.

Through our work with the legislature, we obtained additional funding mechanisms for enhanced security and adopted numerous safety processes. To ensure our state elections are being run by and voted in by Mississippians, we passed legislation to prevent private money from being used to fund election administration, implemented multiple procedures to ensure only U.S. citizens are voting in Mississippi elections, and codified voter roll maintenance practices.

In order to verify Mississippi has clean Election Day processes, we gained authority for the Secretary of State’s Office to conduct post-election audits, required all voting machines to have a voter-verifiable paper ballot, and implemented a grant program to help counties purchase machines with this capability. Additionally, we secured annual Elections Support Fund (ESF) increases to each county plus a one-time $3 million disbursement split between all 82 counties to administer elections, strengthen cyber security, train local elections officials, and many other enhanced measures.

Knowing the work that goes into Election Day is much more than just a 24-hour day, we thoroughly reviewed our absentee voting process and worked to close loopholes. Anyone who now fraudulently requests an absentee ballot application for another person can be convicted of voter fraud. Many Mississippians probably also assumed ballot trafficking, or ballot harvesting, was a prohibited activity; however, it was not until this session. While we included a few exceptions for family members, mail carriers, and the like, it is no longer legal to traffic ballots in Mississippi.

On the campaign trail in 2019, Mississippi told me what was needed to secure our elections, and I’m proud of our work to reaffirm to Mississippians the vote they cast is the vote counted, but we can’t stop there. After adding the above referenced measures to secure the vote, we will turn our attention to the exploration of proven policies making it even easier for our citizens to vote.  

Earlier this year, I wrapped up our 82-County Tour on which we met with and listened to our state’s 82 circuit clerks and 410 election commissioners. We heard many new ideas but would also love to have your input as we work to make voting more accessible for all. I encourage you to reach out to me or my team to help us think through good policy positions and what makes sense for all Mississippians.

Please join me as we work to uphold one of our greatest liberties, the right to vote.

Bob Bakken

Bob Bakken is the most recognized and most trusted name in DeSoto County news and sports reporting, as readers continue to express their appreciation for his accuracy and fairness in the stories he writes. Bob is also heard on 95.3 The Rebel twice a week with sports updates and high school football play-by-play broadcasts in the fall. A former newspaper editor and writer, his award-winning background also includes television news producing, sports media relations, and radio broadcasting.

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