From left, Monroe County election commissioner Earnestine Metcalf, circuit clerk Dana Sloan, Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson and election commissioners Pete Randle, Drew Garvin, Doris Suggs and Jimmy Dale Parham.

Newly elected Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson has embarked on a listening tour through all of the state’s 82 counties to gather concerns from circuit clerks and election commissioners.

He made his Monroe County visit March 9, and one of the talking points was the potential of mandated paper ballots for elections. While he is unsure of what the future may hold with electronic versus paper ballots, Monroe County Circuit Clerk Dana Sloan later said she is preparing if it is mandated.

“If it comes through a federal mandate, it would come with funds. I’ve heard rumors of a potential push from Washington about a mandate to bring back paper ballots, but nothing is confirmed. Right now, I just heard there was a possibility but I want to gather as much information as I can to be prepared in case it happens,” she said.

Monroe County switched from paper ballots to electronic TSX voting machines in 2006.

A ballpark estimate for one scanner at each of Monroe County’s 26 voting precincts and four additional scanners at the four largest ones to tabulate paper ballot results is $285,000.

Monroe County has benefited from Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds, which have provided for a new GEMS server for the county’s election software and more handicap-accessible improvements at county-owned voting precincts.

The county received $48,000 through 2018 HAVA funds, and Sloan is unsure how much it will receive through 2020 funds, which could potentially help if paper ballots are mandated.

Other talking points of Watson’s visit included early absentee voting and the potential of lessening the time from five days to three days someone voting affidavit has to show their voter ID at circuit clerks’ offices.

“If someone goes to vote and they don’t have an ID card, they have five working days to bring the ID to us. If they bring it, their ballot is accepted. If they don’t bring the ID, the law requires their ballot to be rejected. Circuit clerks are pushing for the time to be three days to return with an ID,” Sloan said.

She said in cases of runoffs, the three-day limit would speed up the time for counties to certify election results and return them to Jackson.

After meeting with Sloan and Monroe County’s election commissioners, Watson spoke to the Aberdeen Rotary Club.

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