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Election Commission's work an ongoing process

By By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
Oct. 27, 2003
Ann Watts has served as chairman of the Lauderdale County Election Commission for seven years. She has represented District 1 on the commission for 19 years.
She has served on several state election commission task forces and is currently serving on a statewide voter registration committee. She also trains other election commissioners throughout the state.
The Meridian Star: When did the Election Commission's work begin related to the upcoming Nov. 4 general election?
Ann Watts: Starting in January of last year, we purged the books. That is an ongoing thing. And we have a terrible problem, as all counties do, with people moving and not changing their address. They may move next door or move down the street and they don't realize it, but they could change districts; maybe not supervisor districts and maybe not precincts, but they could change legislators, constables or senators.
The Star: How do you purge the books? How does that process work?
Watts: In the early 1990s the National Voter Registration Act was passed. Through that, if we are told that someone has moved or if we get a voter registration card back (in the mail) or a jury summons any of those things that we get back that puts us on the track that a person has moved there would be some investigation to try to find out where that person is, which you can't always do. They are mailed what we call a confirmation card. If that is returned (by the post office) then they are facing an inactive list. Voters don't realize how important it is to change their address.
We're going to have a lot of people going to the polls in November who will find themselves on the inactive list. It is the voter's responsibility to change their own address with the courthouse. No one is ever turned away. They can go to the correct precinct in which they live, they will vote an affidavit ballot and at that time they will be reactivated and their vote will also be counted. That's one of the beauties of that law. It doesn't disenfranchise anybody. As long as you are in your correct precinct, and at your correct address, your vote will be counted.
The Star: Do you also rely on regular reports from other entities, such as the coroner?
Watts: We get information from the bureau of vital statistics, we also use the obituaries in The Meridian Star. We use those quite a bit. We are always amazed at the people who fall through the cracks between the bureau of vital statistics. Perhaps they have died outside the county, yet they are residents of Lauderdale County. If you die in Kemper County your death will come out on the Kemper County list, not on the Lauderdale County list from the bureau of vital statistics. That's why we really appreciate it when someone lets us know that someone is deceased and maybe they have found them on the voter rolls.
The Star: In Kemper County where there is a sheriff's runoff being challenged, there seems to be some question as to who is responsible for purging the voter rolls. What authority does the election commission have, and how does it relate to the circuit clerk's office?
Watts: By statute the job of an election commissioner is to purge the books. The circuit clerk puts the names on the book and the election commissioners are suppose to be the ones who purge the records, or delete the people.
In Lauderdale County we are very fortunate. We work very well with our circuit clerk, Donna Jill Johnson. Our county has computers in our office and we are allowed to make those changes ourselves. The voter rolls actually come under the heading of the circuit clerk. She is the keeper of the voter rolls but we have to purge them. In some counties the circuit clerks expect the election commissioners to give them lists and this happens to be the case in Kemper County. The election commissioners do not physically take the names off themselves. They have to provide a list to the circuit clerk and then she takes the names off. It just depends on the county as to how it is done.
The Star: How will redistricting and split precincts effect voters the general election?
Watts: I'll use Poplar Springs School as an example it is a big precinct. It and two other precincts are split four ways, Meehan and South Nellieburg. It may be a senate split, a house split or a constable split. We have 91 ballot styles for this election in Lauderdale County.
Also with this year you have superintendent of education so you have different school districts to consider there. It's a difficult process.
The Star: Does the election commission have anything to do with the filings of contributions and expenditures that local candidates have to turn in to the circuits clerk's office during elections?
Watts: No. The only thing that we do have to do is by the time a person wins, we are suppose to check and make sure that they have fulfilled all of their obligations as far as the reports are concerned.
The Star: What keeps you interested in serving on the election commission?
Watts: The most valuable thing I think that we as Americans have is that right and freedom to vote. Sometimes I hear people complain because they may have been put in a precinct where they have to drive another two or three miles to a voting precinct, and they only go there three times a year at most, and they will complain about that. And yet they don't think a thing about getting in their car and driving 10 miles to Wal-Mart. And they don't realize that this is one of the most valuable things that they have. A lot of people say, My vote doesn't count. What difference does it make?' I have seen a lot of elections over the state won by one vote. I would like to encourage everyone to get out and vote and to take advantage of that wonderful freedom we have.