The Mississippi House and Senate held a joint elections committee meeting this week to discuss how elections will move forward this year under pandemic guidelines.

Members heard from Secretary of State Michael Watson as well as election commissioners on the topic.

“I want to be clear, our office did not want to overreact,” said Watson. “My hope for us is to get through this and understand that we didn’t overreact, but we had a good plan in place and the integrity of the election was upheld.”

Coming up in just a few weeks is a primary runoff election for the District 2 Congressional seat. The two candidates are Republicans Thomas Carey and Brian Flowers. The next major election will be the November 3.

Watson said supplies for elections will be coming in two phases. The first phase will arrive in time for the runoff and be distributed to counties that need them. These supplies will come out of the $4.7 million in CARES Act dollars that were distributed directly to SOS offices around the nation.

Secretary of State Michael Watson

“We are planning to use that money for things like protective equipment. We’ve got plans for gloves and for masks and facial shields. We have social distancing measures we are putting in place for our precincts,” said Watson.

He said these will include print outs to mark where people should stand as they wait to vote and what to do as they enter. Watson assured Legislators that they are prepared.

You can see Watson’s full election plan HERE:

Election Commissioners said things will definitely look different this year. Training for poll workers will be different to ensure measures are taken to protect from the Coronavirus. The Legislature confirmed that they would be covering the extra costs for those needs as a plan is implemented.

To encourage more people to become poll workers, since there is anticipation for a higher demand, Watson said they are reaching out to the Bar Association, bankers and realtors. They have offered Continuing Education Credits for anyone willing to be trained to work the polls.

The Legislature is currently considering bills that would allow for the increase in poll workers. Those bills are SB 2398 and HB 1523.

“Not only do we want to be prepared for this election, but we think this is an awesome opportunity to look forward down the road,” said Watson.

Chad Welford of George County, with the Circuit Clerks Association, said some clerks are recommending going to a paper ballot to limit everyone touching the same things. This would require funds to change equipment.

“With COVID-19 happening we have a lot do deal with. For instance, in most counties we use a touch screens and everybody is touching the same machine,” said Welford

Welford said for just George County to upgrade it would cost roughly $200,000.

He said they anticipate an increase in absentee ballots and will need additional helpers to process those ballots. Welford suggested a committee that could process those ballots at the courthouse instead of poll workers counting them after the polls close. This would also change absentee votes to a “final vote” so that people cannot come to the polls and vote twice. Watson said his office is in support of this change.

An additional excuse and more days to allow for more people to cast those absentee ballots is another step being taken to meet the challenges of the pandemic.

Most importantly, Watson said they are working to make changes that will not only benefit this election cycle but also those in the future.