Mississippi Secretary of State visits with Jasper County election officials during tour of state

Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson visited Tuesday afternoon with Jasper County election officials. Pictured (from left) are Jasper County Circuit Clerk Billy Rayner, District 4 Election Commissioner Larry Dykes, District 1 Election Commissioner Linda Graham, District 2 Election Commissioner Vernell Lofton, Secretary of State Watson, District 3 Election Commissioner Laura Parker, and District 5 Election Commissioner Samantha Parker.

Jasper County election officials were able to visit one-on-one with the state’s leading election authority Tuesday afternoon at the Courthouse in Bay Springs.

Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson, along with two staff members, visited Jasper County Circuit Clerk Billy Rayner and the five Jasper County Election Commission members to discuss the present election process in the county and state, needs of the county, the future of elections in the state, and other items that revolve around the election agenda.

Watson is presently on the first leg (30 counties) of making a trip this year to all 82 counties in the state to visit with election officials. Rayner said the visit from the Secretary of State was welcomed by both him and the local Election Commissioners - Linda Graham of District 1, Vernell Lofton of District 2, Laura Parker of District 3, Larry Dykes of District 4, and Samantha Parker of District 5.

“It was a big positive for the Election Commissioners to have a visit from Secretary of State Watson. It was a promise and commitment that he made when he got elected (November 2019) that he was going to visit all Circuit Clerks in the 82 counties and the Election Commissioners of those counties,” Rayner explained. “That was a commitment that he had made. During COVID times, he is running behind on it, but he is fulfilling his promise.”

According to Rayner, during a near hour-long gathering Watson held with him and Jasper County Election Commission officials, numerous election topics were discussed, ranging from challenges to the Election Commission and what Watson’s office can do to assist it, challenges in the Clerk’s Office with voter registration and how he can assist with that, to things like poll worker responsibilities, early voting, absentee voting, and assistance with the state-wide election system and how it is maintained.

Just prior to meeting with the Election Commission, Rayner and Watson also discussed the recent decision Rayner made of introducing new-age, paper ballot voting equipment to the county, which was applauded by Watson. A request for the new voting equipment has already been approved by the Jasper County Board of Supervisors for purchase to replace the out-of-date touch screen system that has been used in the county since 2005.

Jasper County voters will see these new voting machines in future elections, most likely as soon as the June 2022 Primary Election. The machines will be paper ballot styled, but not like the old punch-hole system that was used close to two decades ago and for many years. Rayner recently mentioned the new voting machine system will be extremely secure for voters and the overall, local election process.

“There is so much distrust with elections now, we want to put our best foot forward,” he recently explained. “In simple terms, this will go back to paper ballots like we used to use, but it will be different. They (ballots) will be marked by the voter with ink, not with pencil. Each precinct will have a digital scanner. The voter will mark their ballot, drop it in the scanner, and it will read it automatically. On election night, we will have one specially encrypted memory stick (per precinct) that will come back with the results. The actual, secured ballots will come back also in case somebody wants a box review or contest.”