Amid the allegations of fraud and the legal wranglings over the Mississippi Republican primary and runoff elections last month, one thing is clear: The lack of timely, useful election results has not helped assure citizens the election was fair. The process of publishing certified election results in Mississippi is long, sometimes complicated and filled with opportunities for delay and mistakes. The confusion and errors in the results of June’s primary and runoff elections for the United States Senate underscore the vulnerabilities of a system that is antiquated compared with most other states. Mississippi is the rare state in which the state agency in charge of elections does not offer live election night reporting. Some counties, like DeSoto in the north of the state, provide unofficial results on election nights, but not at the precinct level. Other counties have no website or no election results posted at all. Contrast that with states like West Virginia, which offers unofficial results on election nights and precinct-level results soon after, or South Dakota, which had live maps with precinct-level results for its own primary election on June 3.
Here is how the results reporting process works in Mississippi: First, an election is held, like the June 3 primary election for state and federal offices or the June 24 primary runoff for the Senate Republican nomination, which was won by the incumbent, Thad Cochran. Voters cast their ballots at voting locations in the state’s 82 counties, which then tally the results. Mississippi’s counties use a variety of voting methods, including electronic voting machines and paper ballots.
Next, those results need to be certified, or approved by a county committee tasked with overseeing the election. In the case of a primary or primary runoff election, party executive committees do that work, and they have 10 days after the election to certify the results.
Finally, the state party committees print the certified results and send them via fax to the Secretary of State’s office, where they are scanned to a PDF file and posted on the state’s website where the public can view or download them.