Hattiesburg election review finds ballot problems

Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree
Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree
Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree

HATTIESBURG, Mississippi (AP) — A report by Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann found 10 percent of absentee ballots were incorrectly accepted or rejected in Hattiesburg’s special mayoral election in September.

The Hattiesburg American reports that a review of more 1,044 of the 1,048 absentee ballots cast showed that of 812 accepted, 69 should have been rejected. Meanwhile, of 72 absentee ballots rejected, 23 should have been accepted.

By percentages, that means 8.5 percent of accepted ballots should have been rejected, while 31.9 percent of rejected ballots should have been accepted.

The review, released Friday, warned that state officials couldn’t tell for sure if ballots marked rejected, accepted or not marked were actually opened and counted.

The report’s findings don’t change the election’s outcome, in which incumbent Mayor Johnny DuPree won a fourth term by 202 votes over challenger Dave Ware.

The September election took place under intense scrutiny, after a June vote was thrown out by a judge after hearings because of vote-counting problems. Many supporters of Ware have continued to claim that he was cheated out of the election.

Hosemann says the report shows that municipal election workers need more training, in part because the only conduct one election every four years.

“Poll workers are trained by election commissioners and this report shows what I have long advocated — more rigorous training for our poll workers,” he said in a statement.

The report found that one person provided assistance to 11 voters who cast absentee ballots claiming physical disability. Of those, only three ballots were properly marked.

Another person requested ballots for more than seven individuals. The report said it was unclear if that person was legally qualified to request ballots for all those people. Close family members, legal guardians or those with power of attorney can ask for a ballot for another person.