October 28, 2013 9:50:35 AM
HATTIESBURG -- Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann is examining absentee ballots from Hattiesburg's recent special election.
The review will not change the outcome of the election. Incumbent Democrat Johnny DuPree won a fourth term by 202 votes over challenger Dave Ware, after the initial vote was thrown out by Forrest County Circuit Judge William Coleman.
Hosemann has requested that copies of the applications, envelopes and ballots of the 1,055 absentee votes cast in the Sept. 24 special mayoral election be sent to his office for examination.
"I want to emphasize this: We are not the election police," Hosemann said last week. "But that being said, (the first) election was thrown out by a court, and I think it deserves a little scrutiny.
Hosemann said he wants to examine how many people said they were out of town on election day, how many people voted by mail and how many voted in person before the circuit clerk.
The examination could help Hosemann, a Republican, push for changes in how elections are administered the Hattiesburg American reports. Those could include more training of poll workers, election commissioners and other officials charged with the distributing, handling and accepting ballots. It could also bolster proposals to change how absentee ballots are handled.
"I had proposed legislation prior to this that if you had one person witness more than 10 ballots, that should be prohibitive, unless it was a family member," Hosemann said. He said that he's likely to propose legislation again this year.
The examination also could lead to the prosecution of those believed to have committed voter fraud.
"If we find any violation in the absentee ballots in Hattiesburg or anywhere else, we will turn those over to the attorney general and the district attorney and then they will proceed as they see fit," the secretary of state said.
Hosemann's office had issued an earlier report indicating problems with the election, but said state officials had limited power to intervene because elections are run locally.
But Hosemann said he shared the frustration of many by an election rife with flaws.
"You have individuals casting ballots for other individuals and then standing on the steps of City Hall and acknowledging that. The assistance in these precincts is very alarming, where you have somebody who comes in who doesn't deserve assistance, and someone assists them. That's very alarming. You look at the numbers, and there were quite a few who had that happen, even though they were specifically instructed not to do that. Those areas are very troublesome to us."