August 11, 2011 10:14:00 AM
Big brother will be watching over the Oktibbeha County primary runoff election on Aug. 23.
An observer from the Mississippi Secretary of State''s office will oversee the election''s day operations following the discovery of several irregularities during the Aug. 2 election.
Earlier this week, Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk Angie McGinnis was flooded with complaints about aggressive poll watchers, improper voter assistance and people campaigning too close to polling sites.
But it was the confiscation of 45 pre-marked ballot proofs, which were seized from the Hickory Grove and Osborne precinct, that sent up the red flag, McGinnis said. Once a ballot is marked, it becomes campaign material if it is handed out within 150 feet of a polling place.
After meeting Tuesday with local leaders from both political parties, McGinnis contacted the state.
In her 22 years as circuit clerk, Aug. 23 is the first time McGinnis will host state observers.
"I''ve experienced some irregularities before but never to this extent," McGinnis said. "I felt I needed to address that (by contacting the state), No. 1 because a sample ballot left this office as a proof."
McGinnis said the likely cause of the pre-marked ballot proofs, used as a basis for master lists and absentee ballots, was a sample ballot leaving the courthouse without being marked "sample." From there, it was likely photocopied and altered for Democratic primaries.
"I do not think that number of ballots was given out by someone in the office," she said. "But therein lies the problem because it was only an official Democratic ballot."
Former Oktibbeha County Republican Party Chairman Bob Daniels was one of several party members to meet with McGinnis this week. He''s concerned that some of the tactics used in the 2007 voter-fraud scandal in Noxubee County are spreading to Oktibbeha County.
"I''m concerned about aggressive tactics being used at the polling places to try and sway elections," Daniels said. "The irregularities were in six precincts. We need to have free and fair elections for everyone in the county."
Daniels is confident that with the help of observers, the runoffs will go smoothly.
Oktibbeha County Democratic Chairman Albert Gore said he experienced similar instances of party poll workers influencing voters or alerting candidates of specific voter participation.
He said he''s weeded out those kinds of poll workers but admits it''s hard to eradicate the "cliques that don''t have any morals."
"If I catch them, they won''t be there over five seconds or I will call the sheriff," Gore said. "They will not be in 150 feet of the building."
McGinnis said post-election reports usually generate 10 to 15 calls. However, she had upwards of 60 after this year''s primary.
"I have poll workers coming by to tell me about poll watchers that were there for a number of candidates," McGinnis said. "They''re making calls on cellphones, which are equipped with cameras, which shouldn''t be in a polling place. Unfortunately, some poll workers try to pull people one way or another. The message we want to send is that it won''t be tolerated in Oktibbeha County."
State observers are located strategically throughout the state to get to each county within an hour. Secretary of State Communication Director Pamela Weaver said she didn''t know how many observers would be on hand but said they won''t interfere with election-day operations.
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