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Officials say some voting problems reported in Mississippi


Associated Press   02 November 2004

JACKSON, Miss. - Some early voters at a Hattiesburg precinct were wrongly informed Tuesday they couldn't vote if they were wearing clothing promoting the University of Southern Mississippi, election officials said.

There was a $12 million bond issue to fund athletic improvements at the university on the ballot in Forrest County. The university is located in Hattiesburg.

"They were telling people wearing USM shirts that they couldn't vote because it's campaigning. But it's not," said David Blount, a spokesman in the secretary of state's office. "If it just says 'USM football,' it's not advocating the bond issue."

Lou Ellen Adams, circuit clerk for Forrest County, said there was confusion at some polling places early Tuesday but the problem was quickly corrected.

"I didn't get reports that they were turned away," Adams said. "A couple of them turned their shirts inside out. As soon as I learned of that, I corrected the problem. But I did get some angry calls."

Problems were also reported at other precincts but officials said many of the complaints could not be substantiated.

Hinds County Election Commissioner Josephine Anderson said Tuesday that an investigation found no evidence to support complaints that voting machines at a heavily black Jackson precinct were designated for either Republican or Democratic voters.

Mississippi voters do not register by party and election law prohibits polling places from designating machines for one party or the other.

Anderson, whose district includes the Presidential Hills precinct, told The Associated Press she investigated the complaints.

"They had no problem out there other than long lines," Anderson said. "I don't know who started the rumors."

The Magnolia Bar Action Line - a hotline set up by The Magnolia Bar Association - reported receiving complaints that the machines were separated along party lines.

Crystal Martin, president-elect of the association of black attorneys and in charge of the action line, said her group had sent a lawyer to the precinct to investigate the complaints.

Presidential Hills is considered a heavy Democratic area but "I understand that there were three Republican machines and two Democratic machines," Martin said.

David Blount said most of the verifiable problems reported Tuesday were minor, including complaints of a polling place opening late.

In Yazoo County, sheriff's deputies were called to a precinct where there were reports that a poll watcher was greeting voters and campaigning for 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.

Circuit Clerk Susie Bradshaw said the poll watcher, who was not identified, did not head warnings by precinct officials so authorities were summoned.

Sheriff James Williams said the poll watcher was not detained because "there was nothing to it."

Jason Lee, project coordinator for Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities, said he noticed many polling places in Jackson weren't handicap accessible.

"However, at those places they are offering curb side voting on paper ballots, but many of the people we took to vote didn't trust voting on paper ballots," he said.

Lee said this is a problem statewide and the coalition was working with the secretary of state's office to have all polling places accessible for people with disabilities by 2006.

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