Jones County election commissioner facing backlash for comment on social media

Jones County election commissioner facing backlash for comment on social media
Jones County Beat 1 Election Commissioner Gail Welch is facing backlash for a comment she made on Facebook. (Source: wdam)

JONES COUNTY, Miss. (WDAM) - Jones County Beat 1 Election Commissioner Gail Welch is facing backlash for a comment she made on Facebook.

A screenshot of her comment is being shared across social media.

Her comment on Facebook said, “I’m a Election Commissioner in Jones County. I’m concerned about voter registration in Mississippi. The blacks are having lots events for voter registration. People in Mississippi have to get involved too. Thank you fir all you do.”

Welch responded to the backlash from the comment in an interview with WDAM.

“This was a big mistake,” Welch said. “I realize I could have worded things a little better. This was based on my frustration over the past few years over low voter turnout.”

Welch has been in office for almost 20 years and says her message was taken out of context.

“I’m just trying to get everybody involved in registering to vote,” Welch said. “If everybody were as passionate as the black community were about registering people, you know, that would be great.”

Since her comment, the Jones County Circuit Clerk’s office and the Board of Supervisors say they have received numerous complaints.

“I have no authority over her, no legal authority, no statutory, no law, anything that gives me the authority to reprimand her in any way,” Jones County Circuit Clerk Concetta Brooks said.

“Mrs. Welch does not report to the Board of Supervisors,” Jones County Chief Administrative Officer & Jones County Board of Supervisor Danielle Ashley said. “We don’t have any control over her or her actions and she is an elected official just like the supervisors are, just like the circuit clerk is. The comment that was expressed by her on social media is not representative of the Board of Supervisors or the county as a whole.”

WDAM reached out to Secretary of State Michael Watson’s office on the matter. Here is the official statement released by Watson:

“The Secretary of State’s Office continues to receive reports regarding the online behavior of a handful of Election Commissioners spread across the state. While we do not agree with the derogatory comments we’ve seen, our office has no legal authority to reprimand or remove these individuals from office. Election Commissioners are independently elected officials, and they are answerable to the voters of their district.

We plan to send a letter to all 410 Election Commissioners to remind them of their duties and responsibilities, including Justice James L. Robertson’s words in Meeks v. Tallahatchie County, “Perhaps more so than is the case with other public officials, the integrity of the office of the Election Commissioner must be totally beyond compromise. The legislature has enacted that Election Commissioners shall totally remove themselves from any taint or hint or suspicion of partisanship. They must be aloof from partisan politics as much as judges, if not more so. For what is at stake is public confidence in our system of self-government.” 513 So.2d 563 (Miss. 1987)

I want to be clear in that it is important to note the actions of these individuals reported to our office do not represent the entire group of hard-working Election Commissioners who work year-round to uphold the integrity of our elections. This year is an extremely important election year, and we will continue to do everything we can to ensure all voters are treated fairly.” — Secretary of State Michael Watson.

The Mississippi Ethics Commission released the following statement regarding Welch’s comment:

“The comments, while highly inappropriate and offensive, do not violate the Ethics in Government Law, and the Mississippi Ethics Commission has no authority to take any action against the election commissioner for those comments. Most comments and other speech of elected officials, like all American citizens, are protected by the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.”

“The thing that I want people to understand, I am here for everybody and I do not discriminate against anybody, I don’t care who it is,” Welch said. “I am going to do my job and that has nothing to do with nothing else.

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