Bloated voter rolls

Leflore County has the second most bloated voting rolls in the state, says the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office.

According to data from that office, Leflore County has more registered voters than people of voting age, as do six other counties in the state. Currently, the county has 21,891 active registered voters — 103.46% of its voting  age population of 21,158, based on estimated numbers from 2018.  

Humphreys County’s voter registration total is more than 107% of its voting age population. Following Leflore County on the list are Amite, Jefferson, Franklin, Covington and Madison counties.

Leflore County Election Commissioner Preston Ratliff said the process of purging people from the voter rolls requires attention to detail.

“We actively do voter roll maintenance, but we carefully do it,” he said. “We are meticulous on who we remove to make sure we don’t disenfranchise anyone. … We may be overly conscious.”

Ratliff also clarified what these numbers mean.

“‘Active’ is a status,” he said. “These numbers are not saying 21,900 people are voting; it is saying 21,900 people are actively on our roll.”

In an email, Kendra James, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office, clarified that “active” means a person is registered to vote and the county has received no notification that the voter may no longer reside in the county where registered.

“Inactive” means the person is registered to vote but the county has received some type of notice — though not directly from the voter — that the voter may no longer reside at the address where he or she is registered to vote.

This person may still vote but must confirm in writing that he or she  resides within the county. Such voters may only cast affidavit or provisional ballots. An inactive voter who no longer lives in the county would not legally be entitled to vote in that election.

James also said county election commissioners are trained each year on voter roll maintenance.

Ratliff said that the county’s voter roll numbers tend to fluctuate between elections. “Last time I checked (before the election), Leflore was at 101%,” he said. “Then we had a voter drive, so that would account for that 2% increase.”

Ratliff said that after the 2010 U.S. Census came out, the county was at approximately 126%.

“When I took over, we actively addressed that,” he said.

The commission must follow a number of guidelines before purging anyone from the list, Circuit Clerk Elmus Stockstill said.

For one, no one can be removed  90 days before any federal election. Also, should the commission suspect a resident has moved out of the county, it mails a confirmation card asking the voter to verify that he or she still lives at the address on file or that the address must  be updated.

Voters are responsible for updating their addresses each time they move, which may require reregistering to vote in a new county or state.

Suspicion arises in the commission if a registered voter has not cast a ballot in the last two federal elections or if the person has not responded to a jury selection letter.

Stockstill, who is not involved in the purging process or analyzing the voter roll, said one aspect of Leflore County that causes some confusion is the enrollment at Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena.

He said students at MVSU sign up to vote in the county  when they are first registered — but through the course of their college careers they could graduate, transfer, drop out, continue to graduate school or do other things that keep them on the roll even though they are no longer in the county.

“People could be a student for a year, two years, and then they change locations and not their voting information,” he said.

Stockstill said the complete numbers for the amount of ballots cast in the county will be available sometime this week.

But above all, he stressed that there was absolutely no voter fraud in Leflore County.

“Voter fraud is not a problem here,” he said. “We haven’t had any issues here, or in other words there are no ‘dead people voting.’ The most likely reason is people moving out of the county and that not being documented.”

Ratliff echoed this sentiment: “We did a real good job this year. … This was one of the best elections I have seen in Leflore County.”

When asked if the high registration percentage is a concern, Mississippi Secretary of State’s Michael Watson said, “I’d prefer to see counties in the 75-80% range when discussing the percentage of their voting-age population that is registered to vote, but Mississippi typically has higher voter registration numbers than the nation as a whole.”

Watson also said, “Maintaining clean voter rolls is one of the most effective strategies to protect the integrity of our elections process.”

According to Quinn Raymond, an elections expert for 19 states including Mississippi and co-founder of VoteShield — a system to track voter registration data and flag suspicious anomalies for election administrators — voter fraud is a relatively low concern for this kind of situation.

“A lot of people move or die every year,” Raymond said. “There is less of a threat of voter fraud than there is of an increase in county spending.”

Raymond, who is based in New York, said it is best to clean up voting rolls in order to save money in mailing costs for sending out voting information.

“It is a good idea to maintain rolls to benefit taxpayers and voters,” he said.

Contact Adam Bakst at 581-7233 or abakst@gwcommonwealth.com. Twitter: @AdamBakst_GWCW

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