JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The chair of a congressional committee with oversight of U.S. federal elections says ballot shortages in Mississippi’s largest county could undermine voting and election confidence in 2024 if local officials don’t make changes.
Rep. Bryan Steil, a Republican from Wisconsin who chairs the Committee on House Administration, sent a letter, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, to the five-member Hinds County Election Commission, all Democrats. He demanded information on what steps local officials will take to prevent polling precincts from running out of ballots in future elections.
The ballot shortages, which sowed chaos and confusion on the evening of the November statewide election, could undermine trust in election results, Steil said.
“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 Mississippi’s Nov. 7 general election, up to nine voting precincts ran out of ballots in Hinds County, home to Jackson. The county is majority-Black and is a Democratic stronghold. People waited up to two hours to vote as election officials made frantic trips to office supply stores so they could print ballots and deliver them to polling places. It’s unclear how many people left without voting and the political affiliations of the most impacted voters.
Days after the November election, the election commissioners said they used the wrong voter data to order ballots. As a result, they did not account for the changes that went into effect after the legislative redistricting process in 2022. They also claimed to have received insufficient training from the secretary of state’s office. Secretary of State Michael Watson, a Republican, has said county election commissioners across the state received the same training.
Steil asked the election commissioners to identify steps their office is taking to ensure Hinds County precincts don’t run out of ballots during the 2024 federal elections.
On Nov. 28, the Mississippi GOP filed papers asking the state Supreme Court to dissolve a lower court order that kept polls open an extra hour as voters endured long lines and election officials scrambled to print ballots. If granted, the petition would not invalidate any ballots nor change the election results.
Steil’s office did not say whether he would be open to addressing the ballot problems in Hinds County through future federal election legislation. He said the Hinds County commissioners appeared not to have met election preparation standards required by Mississippi law.
“This is completely unacceptable and does not inspire Americans’ confidence in our nation’s elections,” Steil wrote.
Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him at @mikergoldberg.