Diversity and Community Engagement

The University of Mississippi

Posts Tagged ‘UM Votes’

UM Votes: All About Voting Ambassadors

Posted on: April 1st, 2021 by elpayseu

In this blog post, Voting Ambassador Libby Foley shares an overview of the Voting Ambassador program at the University of Mississippi. The VA program is an initiative of the Voting Engagement Roundtable, a coalition of faculty, staff, and students working to advance voter registration, education, and engagement. It is sponsored by the Office of Community Engagement.

While some of you reading this may have heard of our program, the Voter Ambassador Program, it may not be clear to you exactly what we do and how we conduct our operations. This blog post is designed to demystify our program and explain exactly who we are, exactly what we do, and our goals for the future. 

Firstly, the Voter Ambassador Program is a non-partisan team of students whose goal is to not only educate people on voting and voting policies, but also to advocate for increased voter participation and engagement. The Voting Ambassador program is an initiative of the university’s voting engagement roundtable, a collaborative group of faculty, staff, and student leaders working to institutionalize and advance voter registration, education, and turnout across campus. The group is advised by Under the advisement of Erin L. Payseur Oeth, the assistant director of community partnerships and facilitator for the university voting engagement roundtable, and team leader Jaycee Brown. , this team conducts various projects and plans in order to handle this undertaking.

Specifically, there are two sides of our team: education and advocacy. The education team focuses primarily on educating people on their right to vote and the steps it takes to be able to exercise that right. The advocacy team, led by the Andrew Goodman Foundation representatives, focuses on advocating for voting rights and educating people on voter suppression, in a non-partisan manner. 

While these are lofty, broad goals, our team has undertaken specific tasks and projects designed to address these larger goals of our program. Specifically, this past fall semester, the first semester of our program, we conducted numerous strategies that helped us increase voter engagement around campus. The following tasks were completed this fall:

  • Completed mandatory training on voter registration and voting procedures
  • Held weekly meetings to discuss and strategize
  • Held office hours for students to attend and ask us questions or for help
  • Presented at numerous classes to encourage people to register and to vote in the presidential election
  • Helped students register to vote
  • Helped students develop a voting plan
  • Facilitated discussions between students over zoom after the Presidential and Vice Presidential Debates
  • Wrote blog posts about various voting topics
  • Interacted on social media and campaigned via this media to encourage voting
  • Hosted webinar on the statewide initiatives on the 2020 November ballot
  • Facilitated transportation from campus to polls

With all these tasks completed in our first semester, our program hit the ground running in regards to the voter engagement effort. This spring semester, we expanded our efforts to include directed efforts towards education and advocacy, thus splitting the Voter Ambassador Program into two sections. Furthermore, we have worked to expand our knowledge of specific voting issues, as our members are working to create individual Issue Area Briefs about their chosen topic, in order to educate people on voting issues within our country, and more specifically, in Mississippi. With this in mind, here are some of our spring accomplishments so far, as this list continues to grow as the semester goes on:

  • Weekly meetings to discuss and strategize
  • Program split into Voter Education and Voter Advocacy teams
  • Andrew Goodman Foundation (AGF) representatives lead the Voter Advocacy team
  • Voter Advocacy Team led discussion on “The Right to Vote – A Conversation on Voter Rights and Suppression”
  • Issue Area Briefs being developed 
  • Outreach to Organizations on Campus
  • University of Mississippi designated a Voter-Friendly Campus

The Voter Ambassador team is here to serve you, the students and constituents at the University of Mississippi. Our goal is to encourage and aid in voter engagement, and we hope to further our efforts over the coming years. Please contact us at engaged@olemiss.edu to see how our team can assist you and your voting needs!


For your reference:

Libby Foley

Libby Foley

UM Votes: Gear up for the 2021 Municipal Elections

Posted on: April 1st, 2021 by elpayseu

In this blog post, Voting Ambassador Jaycee Brown shares information on local municipal elections, how you can learn about candidates, timelines, and more!

“Every election is determined by the people who show up.” -Larry J. Sabato

We experienced a dynamic Presidential Election last fall. We saw millions of people exercise their right to vote during the challenging times of COVID-19. The data is still being collected, but we know that voter turnout was high and historical.

Now it’s time to bring that same passion and energy to our local elections because municipal offices affect our lives on a daily basis. Our cities have primary oversight of policing, K-12 schools, affordable housing, and public transportation. They’re directly responsible for serving the community. They decide what issues to prioritize and how to approach them.

Due to the lower turnout in local elections, that means your vote matters even more! Some of these elections come down to a few votes. In 2017, a Virginia state legislative election tied.

Control of the House of Delegates was determined by drawing a name out of a bowl.

In the 2018 elections, the voting rate at The University of Mississippi waas 27.5% which was an increase from 2014. However, we can do better. I challenge you to know who’s on the ballot, explore their platforms, even grab a friend to learn about this important election with you.

Finding local election information can be difficult and it varies by city.

Here are some helpful tips from Ballotpedia for your search:

  1. Use a variety of search terms (e.g. city council, alderman, mayor, local election, municipal, +your voting city/town)
  2. Read local news sources (the local newspaper could be a great starting point because they usually interview candidates for stories)
  3. Try direct outreach (e.g. calling city clerk)

This Secretary of State Municipal Packet has more information and resources for municipalities (pages 344-382), including the contact information for the city office and the list of those holding offices.

How can you get involved?

  • Get registered for the general election
  • Research candidates
  • Sign up for voting text reminders (Text @32h8c3 to 81010)
  • Phone Bank with MS Votes
  • Apply to be a 2021-22 UM Voter Ambassador

Election Dates:

  • April 6, 2021: Municipal Primary Election
  • April 27, 2021: Municipal Primary Runoff Election
  • June 8, 2021: Municipal General Elections

Although the registration deadline has passed for the primary election on April 6th, there is still time to register for the municipal general elections. The deadline to register is May 10th.

If you need assistance with getting registered or have any other questions, feel free to contact our voter ambassadors at engaged@olemiss.edu.

 


For your reference:

Jaycee Brown

UM Votes: Understanding Municipal Goverment

Posted on: March 31st, 2021 by elpayseu

In this blog post, Voting Ambassador Jaycee Brown, explores municipal government leading up to our local municipal elections this year. She breaks down different types of municipal government and how they function here in Lafayette-Oxford. 

Presidential Elections receive global attention, and there is usually a higher percentage of voter turnout than state and local elections. The upcoming municipal elections are critical. These
positions affect our lives daily, from the small things like how much we pay for parking to more significant issues like affordable housing. Many students are uninformed on what municipal elections encompass and the importance of them.

Municipal elections vary by the historically five governance forms. The different forms have separate approaches to the structure of government in a city or town. The forms include Council-Manager, Mayor-Council, Commission, Town Meeting, and Representative Town Meeting. You can learn more about these here.

The most prevalent governance forms in Mississippi are Mayor-Council, Council-Manager, and Commission. Municipal offices include but are not limited to the Mayor, Board of Alderman, and City Council. The Board of Alderman represents different wards or districts. For example, Oxford has six wards that include several parts of the city.

The excerpt below is taken from the City of Oxford’s webpage:

“The Board of Alderman is composed of seven members with one alderman elected at-large. Both the Mayor and the Board are elected for four-year terms. The mayor has the superintending power of all the officers, employees, and affairs of the city. Additionally, a chief operating officer and chief financial officer assist with day to day operations of the city and its staff.” The Board meets every First and Third Tuesday of the month at 5:00 pm. These meetings are live-streamed and can be found on the city’s YouTube page.

Oxford can be described as a Mayor-Alderman form of municipal government. This is synonymous with the Mayor-Council dynamic. A mayor is elected by voters as well as alderpersons, who serve as spokespersons for different regions. Responsibilities of the mayor include administrative and budget oversight. The council serves as the legislative body, and the mayor (executive branch) is tasked with carrying out the council’s policies. There are variations among the Mayor-Council government depending on the scope of authority. There can be strong or weak Mayor-Council dynamics that affect the characteristics of power/governance.

The mayor and council/alderman usually share responsibilities such as administrative duties and budget planning. They work together to come to decisions. For example, they agreed to uphold the Governor’s mask mandate lift and discussed other aspects that followed that ruling during their board meeting on March 2, 2021. They discussed the reserved curbside parking spaces and
sign ordinances. That shows how our local governments affect everyday aspects of our lives.

As noted, municipal governments can vary and confuse voters. Hopefully, this information serves as a starting point for those who want to learn more about small government functions.
Mississippi uses three general forms: mayor-council, commission, or council-manager government. The easiest way to find your form of government is to call your local circuit clerk or city hall. You may even notice the similarities between the forms mentioned and how your city, town, or village operates. It’s essential to be informed on the municipal elections because those who hold those offices shape our lives in many ways.

If you’re interested in learning more about municipal governments, feel free to reach out to our Voter Ambassadors. You can email engaged@olemiss.edu for more information.


Sources:
https://www.sos.ms.gov/content/documents/elections/2021/2021%20Municipal%20Elections%2
0Handbook_Final.pdf
https://www.nlc.org/resource/forms-of-municipal-government/
http://mrsc.org/Home/Explore-Topics/Governance/Forms-of-Government-and-Organization/City
-and-Town-Forms-of-Government.aspx
https://www.sos.ms.gov/content/documents/ed_pubs/pubs/BlueBook16-20/09%20Municipal%20
Government%20Section%20341-388.pdf


For your reference:

Jaycee Brown

UM Votes: Understanding Gerrymandering

Posted on: March 17th, 2021 by elpayseu

In this blog post, Andrew Goodman Foundation Fellow Katelyn Winstead explains gerrymandering and its effects on elections. She also shares the story of a UM alum who played a key role in addressing gerrymandering in Mississippi.


Gerrymandering: What is it and Why is it Harmful to Voters?

Following the 2020 Presidential election, the United States has stimulated tons of discussion across the nation about voting- whether the system is corrupt, whether people need easier access to voting, and everything in between. There is, however, one process that is invariably unfair, undemocratic, and hurts our voters across all states, counties, and jurisdictions: gerrymandering.

What is gerrymandering?

The definition of gerrymandering, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is “To manipulate the boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to favor one party or class.

The term gerrymandering gets its name from Elbridge Gerry, who was the governor of Massachusetts in 1812. While in office, Gerry signed a bill allowing his party to draw district lines that would favor them and weaken the Federalist party. Looking at the map, the district resembled the outline of a salamander; a Boston Editorial cartoonist drew it with a head and claws and termed it the “Gerrymander”.

Source: Hawaii Public Radio

The Effects of Gerrymandering in the United States

Although both parties tend to point fingers at each other, the truth of the matter is that both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of gerrymandering across the nation. Most political scientists concur that the most notable states that are politically slanted in the way their districts are drawn are: Texas, North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Maryland, Wisconsin, and California.

The effects of gerrymandering on voters’ rights are detrimental. The whole process seeks to silence the voices of party rivals and amplify those of supporters- something that is all too prevalent in politics and not only confuses voters, but also basically invalidates their vote. Gerrymandering essentially punishes voters for sticking to one party, and if they are not within the party that draws the districts, then they are unlikely to be acknowledged in the voting or political atmosphere.

The problem of gerrymandering has been brought to the Supreme Court’s attention plenty of times in the past century; however, besides cases of outright racial gerrymandering, the Justices have declined to rule decisions in cases pertaining to partisan gerrymandering. Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the most recent majority opinion of the Court in 2019, stating that in order to rule partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional, the Court would require a limited and precise standard, which neither parties had demonstrated. Justice Roberts went on to say that Congress and the States hold the power to address partisan gerrymandering, but that it is out of the Court’s reach.

Many states have begun to address the issue of gerrymandering by appointing independent redistricting commissions, which use computer software to accurately define district lines without the burdens of political ideologies. In order to properly address the issue of gerrymandering, the use of independent redistricting commissions could be one of the strongest contenders.

Gerrymandering in Mississippi

In May of 2017, John Chappell, a then-sophomore student at the University of Mississippi, identified Senate District 22 on a map; District 22 was comprised of zigzagged lines, spanning 120 miles south from the Delta to the Jackson suburbs. Chappell began noting demographics of voters in this particular district and realized that there was something very wrong: the African American population was severely underrepresented relative to the immediate areas on the other side of the District 22 borderline. The zigzag lines were drawn to clearly favor the votes of white constituents within District 22.

John Chappell redistricting map

After two nights of research and redrawing lines, Chappell drew up his own map of Mississippi with fairly drawn districting lines and sent his findings to the Mississippi Center for Justice. Soon after, a lawsuit was sent to federal courts.

Judge Carlton Reeves ruled that Senate District 22 had violated the Voting Rights Act and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld; lines were to be redrawn by April 3, 2019. The new districting plan would increase the African American voting age population in District 22 from 50.77% to 58.13%.

This story of the discovery of gerrymandering by a sophomore undergraduate student shows just how much the unfair and undemocratic practice can affect the political landscape of a state; John Chappell was well ahead of his time and an inspiration for those of us that dream of political and social justice. Although Mississippi was lucky to have John Chappell at just the right time, there must be actions that will address future attempts of gerrymandering. Employing an independent redistricting commission can ultimately lead to fairly drawn district lines in which every voters’ voice matters and is not silenced by unfair and undemocratic political rivalry.

Sources:

 


For your reference:

UM Votes: Exploring the History of Voting Suppression in MS

Posted on: March 2nd, 2021 by elpayseu

In this post, UM Voting Ambassador and Andrew Goodman Foundation Fellow Caroline Leonard shares a brief history of voting suppression in Mississippi and explores civil rights around voting. 


The History of Voter Suppression in Mississippi 

Mississippi made headlines in 2020 for being one of the states with the strictest voting laws, both in light of the pandemic and for normal election standards. Despite record high turnout in the 2020 election, Mississippi still ranks low in terms of voter participation when compared with the rest of the country, due largely to limited access to absentee ballots, no early voting provisions, and strict voter identification laws. But what exactly led to these conditions? Voter suppression has a long and violent history in Mississippi, whose effects are still felt to this day. In order to understand the state of voting in Mississippi now, we need to look to the history behind it.

Landmark Legislation: Reconstruction and the 14th and 15th Amendments

Before the Civil War, Voting rights in Mississippi were limited to white men who owned property under the 1817 Constitution, and was amended under the 1832 Constitution to allow all white men over the age of 21 to vote. Following the end of the Civil War and the beginning of Reconstruction in 1865, Mississippi’s efforts to suppress suffrage for African Americans were mostly thwarted by direct federal intervention into the south, and the passage of the 14th Amendment (which gave citizenship status to all people born in the United States and declared that all people are equal under the law) and the 15th Amendment (which guaranteed that a person’s right to vote could not be denied based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude). These provisions were huge in Mississippi because they theoretically gave recently freed slaves, who made up a majority of the Mississippi population, the right to vote and and all other rights granted by citizenship. Additionally, these amendments and a new federal, congressional session reduced the ability of Mississippi’s new government to enforce the “Black Codes” they had created in 1865, and forced them to draft a new Constitution in 1868.

While black voters still faced violence and intimidation when attempting to vote, Reconstruction marked a period of record high turnout and representation for the African American community. Between 1867 and 1876, at least 226 African Americans held public offices, two African American Senators were elected (Hiram R. Revels and Blanche K. Bruce) and the first African American lieutenant governor Alexander K. Davis was elected. For a limited time, black Mississippians were able to engage in the government and shape political outcomes.

The Influx of Voter Suppression

However, the removal of Federal troops from the south heralded in a new era of violence and oppression towards the African American community. Mississippi created a Mississippi Plan which was a direct move to disenfranchise, terrorize, and suppress African Americans in all forms of public, economic, and civic life. It implemented poll taxes, literacy tests, and encouraged intimidation, violence, and agitation towards black voters and majority African American Republican gatherings, effectively eliminating an opposition to the all white Democratic control. It also sought to convert all white men to the Democratic Party, and to remove African American voters from any form of political party participation. These methods were adopted into surrounding states as well, and came to define the Jim Crow era voting policies across the south.

 The 1890 Mississippi Constitutional Convention only served to solidify these attempts at disenfranchisement, with the president of the convention explicitly saying that the goal of the convention was to disenfranchise black voters without violating the 15th amendment. Due to legislative barricades to voting and threats from communities, militia, and employers if you attempted to vote, African American registration dropped from 90% to below 6% in Mississippi between the end of Reconstruction and 1892.

The process of disenfranchisement was made easier with the addition of Separate but Equal policies throughout the country, which inevitably led to a large difference in available community resources and government funding. Furthermore, Mississippi passed legislation in 1902 that declared political primaries private, so they could segregate the event. This prohibited African American Mississippians from having access to selecting candidates for elections (at least in the Democratic Party), and removed their ability to effect change in local partisan elections. Simultaneously, this new primary system made it easier for white Mississippians to vote. In addition to legislative enforcement of disenfranchising laws, armed groups such as the Red Shirts, the Klu Klux Klan, and later the White Citizens Council who used economic and social ruthlessness, enforced segregation through violence and intimidation towards African Americans who attempted to vote. These combined efforts not only removed black Mississippians from being able to have power in school boards, public offices, and participation in juries (which were selected based on voter rolls); it installed immense fear among the population.

The passage of the 19th amendment in 1919 (which granted women the right to vote) did not ease voter disenfranchisement efforts. Many Mississippians were opposed to women getting the right to vote, and employed similar tactics to disenfranchise women as were applied to African American men. Furthermore, many white suffragettes actively advocated against including African Americans in the electorate, both to appeal to white legislators and due to their own racism. African American women were especially vulnerable, facing both racism and sexism at polling locations.

The Fight for the Right to Vote: Civil Rights Organization and the Freedom Summer

Attempts at voter registration were met with fierce opposition which only grew with the increasing attention to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Visible acts of violence and threats to central figures like Medger Evers and Fannie Lou Hammer helped to catalyze protests and organization across Mississippi, an area many civil rights activists had considered too dangerous to enter.

In 1961 the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) was created specifically to help voter registration efforts in Mississippi. COFO, led primarily by Bob Moses, encompassed and networked among many existing groups (such as the SNCC, CORE, NAACP, and SCLC) and was instrumental in organizing voter efforts in Mississippi. 

In response to efforts to block black Mississipians from participating in the election process and to protest the false idea that the Democratic Party had propagated that African Americans did not want to vote, COFO organized the Freedom Vote in 1963. The Freedom vote was organized on the principle of “parallel systems,” meaning organizers wanted to run a system that mirrored the one they were barred from in order to prove how the system was unfair. This vote demonstrated to residents of the state and to the broader country that black Mississipians wanted to vote, as nearly 80,000 Mississipians cast their ballots in this mock election. The organization and collaboration used to create the Freedom Vote led directly into the formation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) and the Freedom Summer.

The MFDP was created to challenge the normal Democratic party in the state, and sought to be included in the National Democratic Convention as the only party elected with consent from African American Mississipians. Similar to the Freedom Vote, COFO organized meetings and events parallel to those held by the Democratic Party to campaign for and create a MFDP platform and delegation to send to the National Convention. The MFDP received overwhelming support from  across Mississippi and from other civil rights activists, however the Mississippi Democratic Party was given full seating while the MFDP was only given two of the needed 64 seats for their delegation. This was seen as a turning point for many activists, as it proved that the White House, represented by incumbent president Johnson, was not willing to provide support to Southern African Americans despite the well documented violence they received for trying to participate in elections.

Perhaps the most famous outcome of COFO was the Freedom Summer initiative in 1964, which brought hundreds of student volunteers from across the country to help register voters in Mississippi. The efforts of Freedom Summer volunteers were met with extreme violence and opposition from local governments. One of the most infamous crimes committed during this time was the murder of volunteers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner. Their murder and other acts of brutality brought attention to the dire conditions in Mississippi at the time. The Freedom Summer also introduced Freedom Schools across the state. These schools served to combat literacy tests by educating students about different parts of the state constitution, and to prepare them for the harassment they would face when attempting to vote.

Other Important Legislation: The Voting Rights Act and Beyond

The Freedom Summer had low effects on increasing voter registration, but they did have an overall positive impact on voting rights in Mississippi. They helped establish freedom schools that would continue to educate Mississippians, and they brought national attention to the extreme violence in the South. Later, after the violent protests in Alabama, President Johnson was pushed to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which banned segregation in public spaces), the 24th Amendment (which outlawed literacy tests and poll taxes), and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is one of the most important pieces of legislation in regards to expanding voter access and registration to disenfranchised groups. It reaffirmed that poll taxes and literacy tests were illegal, and it once again brought federal intervention into areas with historical precedents for voter suppression by establishing the need for clearance. With this new need for clearance, regions with histories of voter suppression would have to approve new legislation regarding election procedures with the Federal Government before installing them. This policy was so beneficial that the percent of registered black voters in the south increased from 43% in 1964 to 66% by the end of the 1960’s.

The Voting Rights Act would continue to be expanded, notably to include protections for people who do not speak English in 1975 to the benefit of Native American and Latinx communities. Furthermore, other legislation like the 26th amendment would enhance voting rights nationwide by granting all 18 year olds the right to vote, and activists continued to fight enduring issues in equality presented in gerrymandering and redlining. 

What does the Future Look Like

While Mississippi voting rights have come a long way since the detrimental Jim Crow Era, the state still has low voter turnout and high barriers of access. States have been increasing restrictive voting laws nationwide, due in part to the 2013 court case Shelby County vs. Holder which struck down the section of the Voting Rights Act that gave the federal government the authority to clear voter policy before states implemented it. In response to this court decision, many states immediately implemented new voter legislation. Mississippi was one of many states that passed stricter voter ID laws following the court decision.

The conversation around voting rights has shifted to a debate about election security versus open access to polling. The main concern, and often the reason for the increase in voting regulation, is potential voter fraud. A study done by Keith G. Bentele and Erin E. O’Brian shows that both political parties, Republicans and Democrats, have historically used voter suppression tactics to align their bases and to try and benefit from election availability. Furthermore, restrictive policies are more likely to be enacted in state governments as opposed to federal legislation (however it is important to note that the research in this article was done before the outcome of Shelby County vs. Holder) similar to how Jim Crow era voter suppression policies occurred on a state by state basis. Additionally, restrictive voter legislation (which occurred across the country in this study between 2006 and 2011) is more likely to be passed where there are increased reports of voter fraud, regardless of whether or not these claims are verified.

Mississippi in particular has limited and confusing absentee ballot policies, no early voting policies, and no online voter registration; all of which make voting more difficult. In the 2018 Statutory Report released by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights cited that stricter ID policies could often be cost restrictive to citizens, and that limited access to early voting and absentee ballots could create longer lines on election days. This may become more perilous to Mississippi residents, as the report also shows that multiple polling locations have been shut down since Shelby County vs. Holder court case. Mississippi is not the only state where election laws have become stricter since 2013, however, Mississippi is one of a few states that was frequently observed by the federal government in regards to election laws and procedures. Another concern mentioned by the Commission’s report is the use of voter roll purges (which can often erroneously remove voters for from voter rolls for lack of activity or minor spelling errors), challenges to voters at the polls (which Mississippi does allow), and barriers to access for non-English speaking voters and voters with disabilities.

However, Mississippi has also continued to improve access to voting and just recently voted to overturn a Jim Crow era election law, marking one of the first times the state had removed a disenfranchising practice left from the 1890 Constitution without outside intervention. The legislation required a state official to receive both the majority vote and the majority of house districts in order to win. Due to the districting policies in the state, this legislation often worked to prohibit the minority political party (originally Republicans and now Democrats) from winning in elections. This law was challenged in the federal court system in 2019 with the prosecution claiming it was racially discriminatory and in violation of the Voting Rights Act. While this lawsuit failed, it was added to the 2020 ballot to remove the policy, and Mississippians widely voted in favor of removing the legislation.

Mississippi has a complicated history with voting access and disenfranchisement. While we should celebrate that voter participation was at an all time high this year and that Mississippi made history by voluntarily removing a Jim Crow era policy from the Constitution, it is still important to recognize the history of voter suppression in the state and to work to bolster civic engagement statewide. The mission of the Andrew Goodman Foundation is to advocate for fair, easy, and equitable elections and to honor the memory of Andrew Goodman, one of the volunteers who was murdered during the Freedom Summer of 1964. In order to do that, we must understand the history of voter suppression in Mississippi, and continue to monitor and fight laws that may impede the freedom for all people to vote. 


For your reference:

Caroline Leonard

Caroline Leonard

UM Votes: Exploring the Role of Poll Workers

Posted on: February 11th, 2021 by elpayseu

In this blog post, OCE Voting Ambassador Libby Foley delves into the role of poll workers in making elections work. Learn about what is involved in serving as a poll worker and what these volunteers do.


If free and fair elections are the foundation of our democracy, then poll workers are the pillars of that foundation. In recent elections, the job of poll workers have been especially vital to maintaining the integrity of elections. However, what poll workers actually do, how they are selected, and what the requirements of being a poll worker are still a mystery to most people. This blog post will help to demystify the job of a poll worker, and explain how important they are to our democracy.

Who Can Serve as a Poll Worker

Firstly, there is a certain set of requirements that one must meet in order to apply to be a poll worker. In Mississippi, those requirements are as follows:

  • Be registered to vote in Mississippi
  • Be entitled to compensation
  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Be a resident of the county in which you are applying to be a poll worker

An important note is that students that are 16 or older, are enrolled in high school, and have a residency in the county or municipality, may apply to be a poll worker with a recommendation from their principal. 

Application Process

If one meets these qualifications, the next step in the process of becoming a poll worker is applying. To apply, one must fill out the “poll worker portal” on the Secretary of State of Mississippi’s website, or go to the following link:

https://www.sos.ms.gov/Elections-Voting/Pages/PollWorkerPortal.aspx

After applying, and once being accepted, the next step poll workers go through is required training. There are many different duties of poll workers, and many of them are very specific, minute details that must be followed, and extensive training is required to prepare poll workers. 

Once someone has successfully completed their training, they can then work as a poll worker on election days, as long as their training was completed within the 12 months prior to the election they are serving in. In Mississippi, the compensation for poll workers is usually $75 minimum on election days, and could be more depending on the poll workers specific duties.

For individuals in Lafayette County, you can also directly apply by contacting the county’s Elections Commissioners Office, at the email elections@lafayettecoms.com, and submit your name, phone number, address, and confirmation of being a registered voter.

What Poll Workers Do

Speaking of poll workers duties, now it is time to understand what poll workers actually do. Firstly, there are several different types of poll workers. The different types of poll workers that Mississippi employs are as follows: general poll managers, receiving and returning managers, initialing managers, alternate initialing managers, and bailiffs*. 

General poll workers – According to the Mississippi Poll Manager Guide, commissioned by the Mississippi Secretary of State, the role of the general poll managers is to:

  • safeguard all election materials;
  • ensure only qualified voters are voting;
  • ensure that voters are only voting once;
  • ensuring photo IDs are valid and match the individual;
  • ensuring votes are made in secret,
  • providing voter information and instructions to those in line;
  • assisting voters with questions;
  • completing post-election reporting requirements;
  • and processing absentee ballots.

Thus, there are numerous, very important, duties that poll managers have in general that protect the integrity of an election. 

Receiving and returning poll workers – The Receiving and Returning poll manager has duties that are slightly more specific. Their duties include:

  • obtaining the box(es) for their polling place that contain the ballots and other necessary materials;
  • keeping track of the number of ballots received from the circuit clerk prior to the election;
  • ensure that the ballot boxes are not tampered with;
  • opening the boxes and distributing materials on the morning of the election;
  • sealing the boxes and machines after the election;
  • returning unused ballots to the election headquarters;
  • and processing paper ballots. 

The initialing manager – The initialing manager, who can not be the same person as the receiving and returning poll manager, has the important responsibility of placing their initials in the proper area of each blank ballot, initialing in the receipt book after a voter signs their name, and then giving the initialed blank ballot to the voter. Obviously, these duties only pertain to paper ballots. The alternate initialing manager is responsible for these duties if the initialing manager is not present or not able to perform these duties.

Bailiff – The final poll manager that the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office highlights is the bailiff. This position requires appointment by a party executive committee, election commission, or by the other poll managers. Their duty is to open the polls, keep order in line, line up voters to wait while helping the general poll managers verify identifications, prevent campaigning within 150 feet of the precinct entrance, stand at the end of the line of voters at 7pm and announce the close of the polls while still allowing those already in line to vote, and finally, check credentials of poll watchers. Thus, the bailiff’s duties deal largely with maintaining a productive environment that is free of campaigning, coercion, or voter intimidation.

These different poll workers all play an important role in preventing election tampering, and without them our elections would be chaotic, controversial, and subject to large amounts of corruption. Without poll workers following these specific duties, there can be no election. Serving as a poll worker is among the most selfless and important civic duties one can undertake, and should any of the aforementioned duties interest you, apply to be a poll worker at the following link!

https://www.sos.ms.gov/Elections-Voting/Pages/PollWorkerPortal.aspx

*For DRE/OMR counties, Opening/Closing Poll Manager is also included in their list of poll worker positions. DRE/OMR are certain types of voting equipment, and the opening/closing manager is in charge of this equipment, for the counties that utilize it.

Sources:

 


For your reference:

Libby Foley

Libby Foley

UM’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture Addresses Voter Suppression

Posted on: November 11th, 2020 by elpayseu

In this post, Andrew Goodman Foundation Team Leader Jenna Santacroce recaps recent events offered this fall through the Center for the Study of Southern Culture addressing voter suppression and voting rights.

The 2020 Presidential election is one of the most monumental in history. The country, so clearly divided and polarized, is experiencing extreme pushback on both ends of the political spectrum. The University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture (CSSC) hosted three virtual events which discussed the ways in which some American citizens cast their ballots without issue, while others are severely affected by “voter suppression.” Voter suppression is any effort to influence the outcome of an election by preventing eligible voters from registering to vote or casting their ballot. Voter suppression, which looks much different now than it does in history, is disguised as an attempt to mitigate “voter fraud,” or illegal interference with the election process by voter impersonation, duplicate voting, ineligible and false registrations, and more. Studies have proven voter fraud to be a rare occurrence, however, by claiming to prevent voter fraud, political leaders are able to establish standards and implement policies that prevent certain individuals from voting. The most affected group of individuals who face voter suppression are people of color. The elderly, students, and people with disabilities are also affected by voter suppression. 

Historian Carol Anderson, alongside other historian colleagues, discussed the history of voter suppression during the Speaker Sessions and Roundtable Discussions hosted by CSSC. They shared that while some groups are affected more than others, voter suppression at large does not follow one specific mode and does not have one specific target. Historically, voter suppression has included outright violence and aggression as well as systematic suppression through government policies. Often, these policies target the most vulnerable (such as the elderly and people with disabilities), or groups that have faced long standing social and political suppression, notably communities of color. Starting after the Reconstruction, southern states began to implicate policies to repress votes, justifying these policies were reasonable for protecting the election. Poll taxes and literacy tests were deemed necessary to fund elections and to provide for an educated electorate, however these laws intentionally overlooked the long standing effects of slavey and poverty, charging disproportionate amounts and ignoring the underfunding of African American schools throughout the south. 

Discriminatory policies escape scrutiny by appearing “universal,” ignoring how one policy will affect groups differently. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 helped to alleviate barriers to voting, especially in the south, by outlawing poll taxes and literacy tests and by monitoring areas known for voter suppression. However, voter suppression continues due to government loopholes and denial of responsibility. Voter suppression today takes on a familiar but different form.

The historians in these CSSC events explained how to identify voter suppression today as it is less blatant and much more covert. Limited access to polling locations is one of the most prominent modern tactics of voter suppression. In Georgia specifically, where CSSC speaker Carol Anderson is from, there are exceptionally long lines at voting stations. This year, the state of Georgia purchased new voting machines despite being advised not to by election officials. The machines were inefficient and created a lengthy voting process by requiring the voter to insert a piece of paper, taking the time to process the paper, then processing the citizens’ votes. Also, these new voting machines were large and only a limited amount were able to fit in voting locations, therefore, only a limited number of people were able to vote at once. The state of Georgia knowingly established a voting system that required voters to wait for hours in lines. People may leave these long lines and tell their friends, family, and communities, inadvertently discouraging them to vote. Carol Ansderson explains these long lines are not accidents and have happened repeatedly in history. These long lines are designed tactics of voter suppression.

New voter identification laws are a heavily debated form of voter suppression. Following the Supreme Court case of Shelby County vs. Holder in 2013, areas with a history of voter suppression are no longer required to receive federal approval for policy changes related to voter eligibility. Similar to using the justification of “universal application” from past policies, voter ID laws are subjective because they can often prioritize access to one type of ID over another, and do not take into account how difficult it may be to receive an identification card due to cost, time, or geographical location. Texas, for example, has allowed the use of firearm registration cards as acceptable voter ID, but has not allowed student ID. This is especially perilous in large states, where citizens may not have easy access to locations to receive adequate identification. The repeal of sections of the Voting Rights Act also led to voter roll purges across the country. Voter roll purges disproportionately target new voters and people of color, by targeting those without a history of repeated voting or by matching voter registration across states by name only, not incorporating any other identifying information. These voter roll purges also removed names if the information did not exactly match information in a state record book, so registrations with minor misspellings or different uses of hyphens were removed.

There is no clear path to remove discriminatory voting laws or practices. There have been calls to create an amendment to the Constitution that guarantees universal suffrage, however one has not been passed yet. The best thing we can do to eliminate voter fraud is to learn about voting rights, and to report states and voting sites that violate these rights. Grassroots organizations and civil rights groups continue to advocate for increased access to voting. The speakers at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture discussions are hopeful that with enough public pressure, we can work towards ensuring everyone has equal access to voting.


For your reference:

Voter Intimidation and Your Right to Vote

Posted on: October 29th, 2020 by elpayseu

In this blog post, Andrew Goodman Foundation Fellow Caroline Leonard shares important information about voter intimidation and your right to vote on Election Day. 

Voter Intimidation and Your Right to Vote

Voter intimidation is illegal in all 50 states. This means that you can not be coerced, threatened, or otherwise swayed to vote a specific way at the polling site. Additionally, many states do not allow campaigning for specific candidates within a certain distance of polling locations. The following information applies directly to Mississippi elections, but information about voter intimidation and armed militias for different states can be found at: Georgetown Law: Protection Against Voter Intimidation and  Georgetown Law: State Fact Sheets. If you want more information, look for the website for your local or state election office.

What voter intimidation can look like:

Voter intimidation is using threats and other intimidation tactics to alter how people will vote or to dissuade or prevent them from voting. Voter intimidation included spreading false information about voting requirements, using verbal threats, inciting or threatening to incite violence, recording information about voters and following them in the polling location, or blocking people from entering the polling location. Additionally, any sort of unauthorized militia is illegal. If you are confronted by an organized group holding weapons, threatening violence, or attempting to act as a militia, contact the authorities.

Furthermore, campaigning, displaying the slogans or likenesses of candidates, or otherwise trying to solicit votes is illegal within 150 feet of a polling location unless it is on private property. Poll watchers may be appointed by individual candidates or political parties to monitor polling sites, however they cannot interact with voters, handle any ballot, or assist in voting. Candidates for office, their immediate relatives, and employers also cannot assist someone directly with voting. These would also be forms of voter intimidation or coercion.

What to do if you feel unsafe:

If you experience voter intimidation there are different steps you can take. If there is immediate danger, call 911. If there is no present danger, notify a poll worker at the polling location, and if they are unable to help you can contact a poll watcher, the circuit clerk for your county, or you can contact the Secretary of State’s office if poll workers or watchers appear biased. Report what happened, when, where, and if there were other voters deterred from voting. If you encounter an armed group, try to take note of any insignias or flags they have, if they are operating in an organized or patrolling way, if they have weapons and what kind, and if they are interacting with voters. However, safety is the top priority. Do not approach the armed group to try and get more information.

There are multiple national election hotlines to call to report cases of voter intimidation, and for general help on the election day:

For English: 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683)

For Spanish: 888-VE-Y-VOTA (888-839-8682)

For Arabic: 844-YALLA-US (844-925-5287)

For Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Urdu, Hindi and Bengali: 888-API-VOTE (888-274-8683) 

For a Video Call in American Sign Language:  301-818-VOTE (301-818-8683)

Mississippi Secretary of State’s Election Hotline: 800-829-6786

If you believe your rights have been violated, you can also contact:

The ACLU: 601-354-3408 or letmevote@aclu.org

The US Department of Justice Voting Rights Section: 800-253-3931

 

Your Right to Vote:

You have a right to vote in the county you are registered in free from harassment or coercion. You are entitled to assistance in voting if needed. Additionally, there are a few alternative ballots you may encounter in addition to the standard ballot. These include:

  • Affidavit Ballot: If you do not have a photo ID with you on election day, the poll worker rules your ID to not resemble you closely enough, if you are not listed in the pollbook, or if you have changed addresses (still within the same county) but did not change your listed residence before the election, you can vote via affidavit ballot. If you vote with an affidavit ballot, you will have to go to the circuit clerk’s office within 5 days of the election to show valid ID. You should be given written instruction on how to check if your ballot was counted when you vote.
  • Curbside Ballot: If you are unable to enter the polling location but you are still able to drive to the location on election day, you are entitled to curbside voting. After presenting your photo ID, you will be provided with a paper ballot or a way to electronically cast your ballot from your car. For the 2020 election, you are entitled to curbside voting if you have symptoms of Covid-19.
  • Emergency Ballot: If there is a power outage or if electronic voting methods are otherwise rendered unavailable, voting should continue as normal. Follow the instructions of the poll workers.
  • Spoiled Ballot: If you mismark a paper ballot you are entitled to ask for a new one. Additionally, if your electronic ballot malfunctions, you can ask for assistance or a substitute ballot.
  • Challenged Ballot: On election day, your ability to vote may be challenged. If your voter eligibility is challenged, you still have the right to cast a ballot. In the event of a challenged ballot, a poll worker will pull you and the challenger aside to ask questions about voter eligibility. If the poll workers unanimously decide you are eligible to vote, you can cast a regular ballot. If they unanimously rule you are ineligible to vote, you can still cast a ballot but it will be instantly rejected. If they cannot reach a decision, you will fill out a challenged ballot, and they will decide its validity later on.

 


For your reference:

Serving at the Polls

Posted on: October 29th, 2020 by elpayseu

In this post, Andrew Goodman Foundation Fellow Jenna Santacroce shares several opportunities for students to serve at the polls.

There are more ways to get involved in the upcoming election aside from casting your vote. The Andrew Goodman Foundation Ole Miss Voting Ambassador Team encourages you to consider becoming a poll worker or a poll watcher!

Serving as a Nonpartisan Poll Watcher

If you are a student that wants to contribute to the election but are unable to work the polls in your home county or are not a Mississippi resident, you can participate by becoming a poll watcher.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund is recruiting nonpartisan poll watchers to report activity that can threaten or intimidate voters and report barriers that limit accessibility to polling stations. Poll watchers can work in any county, but like poll workers, must receive training first. The final training date is Thursday, October 29th. Afterwards, LDF will be in touch with you about poll station assignments and further instructions about Election Day. 

Registration Link

Sign Up to Be an Official Poll Worker

Mississippi’s Secretary of State, Secretary Michael Watson, is seeking the help of Ole Miss students to COVID-19 has inundated our lives with uncertainty since its emergence nearly one full year ago. Secretary Watson and other Mississippi state officials are determined to prevent the virus from affecting these next four years by ensuring a safe and secure 2020 Presidential election. The state of Mississippi is seeking to hire student poll workers to help keep the election process efficient and to maintain the integrity of our democracy.

Student poll workers may be tasked with a variety of responsibilities. As a student poll worker, some jobs you may be asked to assist with include setting up before the polls open, checking in and assisting voters, cleaning polling stations in between voters, or helping close the polls once they close. 

Mississippi student poll workers must be at least eighteen years of age and a resident of Mississippi. Also, in order to work the polls, you must be a registered voter in the county you will work in on election day. It is a full day commitment and you are required to remain at the polling location for the entire time the polls are open.

To apply, you can complete a short application form found on Mississippi’s Poll Worker Portal. Completing your application does not guarantee that you will be hired, nor does it commit you to participate if you decide not to. By completing your application, your request to participate will be sent to your County Circuit Clerk and Election Commission. If your help is needed, these local election commissioners will contact you directly. If you are selected to become a student poll worker, you will be prompted to complete the required training before you serve on election day. 

MS Secretary of State Poll Worker Portal

Other Opportunities

Here are several other opportunities:

  • UM Campus Shuttles – We need volunteers to assist with shuttle service and check-in on Election Day. Sign up here to volunteer.
  • Contact your local county clerk office and offer help. Local election commissioners may need assistance with setting up the polling locations or delivering personal protective equipment.  

The 2020 Presidential election is one of the most anticipated elections yet. It is increasingly important, especially during the time of this pandemic, for this Presidential election to be safe, secure, and accurate as it will influence our lives for the next four years. Contribute to the 2020 Presidential election by doing more than just casting your ballot – apply to be a student poll worker or watcher! 

For more information about county contacts, voter registration, and voter information, visit the Mississippi Secretary of State’s site, Y’all Vote. To stay up-to-date on Mississippi’s latest election initiatives, follow Mississippi’s Chief Elections Officer Secretary Michael Watson on Facebook and Twitter


For your reference:

Statewide Ballot Initiative:  Resolution No. 47

Posted on: October 23rd, 2020 by elpayseu

In this series of posts, UM Voting Ambassadors are previewing what is on the Mississippi ballot, so that you understand the offices, the statewide ballot initiatives, and your choices as you prepare to cast your vote. In this post, Voting Ambassador Jaycee Brown shares about the Resolution No. 47, regarding statewide elected offices, one of three statewide initiatives on the ballot. For those voting out-of-state, please reference our State by State Voting Guide for information on your ballot.

Background

McLemore v. Hosemann, a federal lawsuit filed by four African-Americans on May 30, 2019, challenged the electoral requirement on the grounds that it was racially discriminatory and violated the Voting Rights Act. It aimed to block this law for the 2019 gubernatorial election; however, it was denied. This lawsuit was backed by the National Redistricting Foundation.

The amendment was introduced as House Concurrent Resolution 47 on February 17, 2020 and was passed to be certified for the ballot.

What’s on the Ballot?

House Concurrent Resolution No. 47 aims to remove the election law that requires a candidate for governor or elected state office to receive both the popular vote and the majority vote of the Mississippi House of Representatives.

This is how it’ll appear on the November 3, 2020 ballot:

“This amendment provides that to be elected Governor, or to any other statewide office, a candidate must receive a majority of the votes in the general election. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes, then a runoff election shall be held as provided by general law. The requirement of receiving the most votes in a majority of Mississippi House of Representatives districts is removed.”

VOTE FOR ONE

[] YES

[] NO

It’s important to focus on the last sentence because that’s essentially what you’re voting on.

Marking yes means that you support removing the requirement of receiving the most votes in a majority of Mississippi House of Representatives. You also support the establishment of a runoff election if no candidate receives a majority vote.

Marking no means that you oppose removing the above electoral vote requirement and establishing runoff elections for governor and state offices.

Source: https://ballotpedia.org/Mississippi_Ballot_Measure_2,_Remove_Electoral_Vote_Requirement_and_Establish_Runoffs_for_Gubernatorial_and_State_Office_Elections_Amendment_(2020)


For your reference:

Jaycee Brown