Salem Radio Network News Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Politics

Mississippi GOP challenges election night court order that kept polls open during ballot shortage

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — After ballot shortages in Mississippi’s largest county sowed chaos and confusion on the evening of the November statewide election, the state Republican Party has filed a petition challenging a court order that kept polls open longer than usual.

The Mississippi GOP filed papers Tuesday 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.

The petition would not invalidate any ballots or change the election results. It was filed to clarify for future elections that the lower court lacked jurisdiction and that its order violated Mississippi’s election laws, said Spencer Ritchie, an attorney representing the state GOP.

In the Nov. 7 general election, up to nine voting precincts in Hinds County ran out of ballots. 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 or the political affiliations of most impacted voters.

Two days later, the county’s election commissioners, all Democrats, 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.

The state GOP’s court petition focuses on two election night court orders that it says were conflicting.

As ballots ran short on election night, groups filed two lawsuits seeking to give people more time to vote. The nonpartisan group Mississippi Votes filed one in circuit court, and the Mississippi Democratic Party filed the other in chancery court.

In the Democrats’ lawsuit, a chancery judge ordered all Hinds County polling places to remain open one extra hour, until 8 p.m.

In the other, a specially appointed judge said specific precincts would need to remain open until every person in line at 7 p.m. had a chance to vote — something that was already required by law statewide.

The state GOP argues the chancery court lacked the authority to enter the order and that it “was entered in contravention to Mississippi’s election laws.” Additionally, the party said it was never informed of the order and that party officials learned about it on social media.

“Given the conflicting orders from the Chancery Court and the Special Judge appointed by the Mississippi Supreme Court, there was confusion in Hinds County on election night as to the proper time for polls to close,” the GOP argued in its appeal.

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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.

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