UPDATE: Almost a week after the election, Mississippi Votes voluntarily dismissed their appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
UPDATE: On Wednesday, Mississippi Votes appealed Tuesday’s circuit court order that “granted in part and denied in part” the relief requested in an effort to gain clarity for future elections. Find the case page here.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — At least nine polling locations in the most populous county in Mississippi — Hinds County — ran out of ballots multiple times throughout Election Day yesterday.
With over 200,000 residents, Hinds County is also home to the capital city of Jackson, which has an 83% Black population and has been recently targeted by the Republican-controlled state Legislature.
Mississippi has no early voting opportunities and a narrow set of qualifications for those seeking to vote absentee, meaning that the vast majority of ballots are cast on Election Day. This inaccessibility contributes to the state’s notoriously dismal voter turnout: In this year’s primary election, only 30% of those registered to vote turned out, the lowest rate since 2007.
However, yesterday, amid a competitive gubernatorial race between Gov. Tate Reeves (R) and Democratic nominee Brandon Presley, turnout across the state was higher than anticipated — at least 41% of active voters cast a ballot in the governor’s race.
In Hinds County, multiple polling locations ran out of ballots more than once throughout the day, resulting in voters waiting in lines for hours at a time and prompting the Mississippi Democratic Party (MDP) as well as Mississippi Votes, represented by the Mississippi Center for Justice, to request poll hour extensions at the affected locations.
The fight to extend polling hours became a jumble of legal filings and contradicting orders all as voters waited in line — or left entirely due to the lack of ballots. After the MDP requested that all polling locations in Hinds County be kept open until 9 p.m., a lower court ordered all locations to extend their hours until 8 p.m. The Mississippi Republican Party then appealed this extension to the state Supreme Court, asking that all ballots cast by those who arrived later than 7 p.m. be segregated and not counted at the precinct.
Separate legal action from Mississippi Votes and Justice for Mississippi targeted the extension of polling location hours for certain precincts within the county. A lower court, different from the one that ruled in the MDP request, ruled in response to this extension request that relevant precincts must close by 7 p.m., seeming to rule in direct conflict with the 8 p.m. order.
Since last night’s meltdown, all of those involved in running the state’s elections have attempted to shirk responsibility for the election administration disaster. As the secretary of state’s office clarified, Mississippi law dictates that counties print ballots for a minimum of 60% of the active voter count. Beyond that requirement, counties run the elections and are responsible for distributing those ballots among precincts as they see fit.
However, local election officials said that redistricting created more precinct splits, fostering confusion. President of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund Janai Nelson pointed to Mississippi’s “failed election system & ongoing voter suppression” as reason for the administrative failure.
Regardless of yesterday’s root cause, Mississippi has an egregious voting rights record and boasts the highest level of felony disenfranchisement in the country. A Jim Crow-era constitutional provision enables Mississippi to disenfranchise more than 10% of its total voting-age population and its disenfranchisement of Black voters exceeds 15%.
In Hinds County, specifically, the Republican-led Legislature has taken aim at Jackson — and its over 80% Black population — by creating a new court system with an unelected judge in a portion of Jackson and expanding the Capitol Police force’s jurisdiction, which is run by the state, to cover the entire city rather than just a handful of government buildings. Although litigation over one of the laws is now resolved in state court, a separate lawsuit in federal court challenging multiple aspects of both laws — including the new court within Jackson — is ongoing.