Mississippi News

Watson: Safeguarding Mississippi elections

Note: Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson this week released the following column regarding his opinions on ensuring and safeguarding Mississippi elections and his support of House Bill 1310. The following column is provided by Secretary of State Watson.

Upon taking office as Mississippi’s 36th Secretary of State, I swore an oath to uphold the Mississippi Constitution and faithfully discharge the duties of my office. I do not take this responsibility lightly and believe we should all work together to ensure the law is followed, and Mississippi maintains free and fair elections. For this reason, I’m asking for your support of House Bill 1310 (HB 1310) which would further preserve the integrity of Mississippi elections.

Through the version of HB 1310 we support, our office would be granted authority to conduct post-election audits. According to Section 114 of the Mississippi Constitution, returns of all elections by the people shall be made to the Secretary of State in such manner as shall be provided by law. Currently, the Secretary of State’s Office does not have explicit authority to conduct any type of assessment to ensure elections processes occur within the confines of the law.

The office’s statutory authority is currently limited to providing training to elections officials, collecting campaign finance and lobbying reports, managing the statewide voter registry, collecting election returns, and assisting local election officials in carrying out their election-related responsibilities. With the passage of HB 1310, the Secretary of State’s Office would be allowed to audit elections procedures including, but not limited to: handling of absentee ballots, handling of affidavit ballots, testing of machines, etc.

Simply stated, post-election audits would allow a review of the actions of those tasked with conducting elections for the sole purpose of preserving the integrity of Mississippi elections. Our office would work with county election officials to evaluate procedures and highlight areas in which our counties are doing well, and, in areas where those procedures are not being met, work with the counties to implement corrective measures to prevent a recurrence.

The concept of post-election audits is not an untested theoretical idea. Mississippi is trailing the rest of the country as far as implementation of such audits. Over 40 states have already implemented some type of post-election audit. Alabama, Maine, and South Dakota are a few others who have also not implemented this safeguard.

Other election security measures encapsulated in HB 1310 include a pilot for risk limiting audits, additional funding for enhanced cybersecurity, processes by which circuit clerks and election commissioners may better maintain voter rolls, and the ability to review all registered voters to ensure only U.S. citizens are voting in Mississippi elections. A similar citizenship bill was passed during the 2022 Legislative Session but only included the right to review new voter registrations.

Ensuring free and fair elections is not a Republican or Democrat issue, it is an American one. I encourage you to join me and our state legislators as we work to uphold one of our greatest liberties by making it easier to vote and harder to cheat. As always, feel free to reach out to me or my team should you have any questions.

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