Miss. Secretary of State cannot punish Election Commissioners over derogatory comments

Miss. Secretary of State cannot punish Election Commissioners over derogatory comments
Secretary of State Michael Watson (Source: Secretary of State’s Office)

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson says his office does not possess the legal authority to punish Election Commissioners over their derogatory comments.

Watson says his office has recently received multiple reports of the online behavior of several Election Commissioners 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,” Watson said. “Election Commissioners are independently elected officials, and they are answerable to the voters of their district.”

One of the comments was from Jones County Beat 1 Election Commissioner Gail Welch.

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 for all you do.”

Welch responded to the backlash from the comment in an interview with our sister station, 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.”

Watson says his office plans to send a letter to all 410 Election Commissioners to remind them of their duties and responsibilities.

“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.”

Read his full statement below:

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.

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