Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 2, 2010

State sends single official to observe Panola election

By Billy Davis

Panola Circuit Clerk
Mississippi Secretary
of State

State poll watchers will be dispatched to 29 Mississippi counties, including Panola, during today’s General Election, a spokesman for Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann confirmed.

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A single observer will be dispatched to Panola County to monitor the 12-hour Election Day, a spokesman for Hosemann confirmed.

About 12,000 Panolians are expected to vote today, according to Circuit Clerk Joe Reid, in 24 precincts across the county.

The lengthy Diebold electronic ballot will include a closely watched race for Panola County sheriff, and two races for circuit court judge, among other local races.

A race for Mississippi’s 1st District congressional seat will receive national attention.

The Secretary of State has sent poll watchers in the past, most recently in November 2009 in a run-off election for District 2 supervisor.

Two observers monitored several precincts during the runoff and each observer filed a report that documented questionable activity.

Among other accusations, observers documented that two Quitman County voters were allowed cast a ballot in Crenshaw. Poll workers also mishandled absentee ballots at a precinct in Sardis.

William Pride, the losing supervisor candidate, confirmed at the time that he had requested the presence of poll watchers.

The Secretary of State spokesman did not say if a candidate had requested poll watchers for today’s General Election.

Poll workers attend mandatory one-hour training before Election Day, and the most recent training included instructions related to past problems, said Ronald McMinn, chairman of the non-partisan Panola County Election Commission.

McMinn said he personally stressed the proper handling of absentee ballots and affidavit ballots, and reminded poll workers and managers about who can legally help a voter cast a ballot.

A voter can request help from anyone but help is provided only if the voter is disabled, illiterate or blind, according to state election law.

In 2008, two poll watchers, seated at the Como precinct, alleged that an election commissioner and a poll worker were telling voters who to select, and also pointing out the candidates’ political affiliation.

That election commission, Vivian Burkley, was not seeking re-election and is no longer in office.   

The poll watchers were representing U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and the Panola County Republican Party.

One of the poll watchers alleged that a poll worker refused to allow him to view the poll book until the poll manager intervened.

A poll worker who attended the most recent training said McMinn stressed the importance of a “fair election,” and asked poll workers to be courteous and respectful to voters.

“The success of a good election lies within the work of its poll workers,” McMinn told The Panolian.