On Nov. 7, 2023, ballot shortages in Hinds County, Miss., underscored the urgent need for robust electoral reform. The Hinds County Election Commission’s acknowledgment of “human error” and mix-ups with the ballot-order as the culprits behind this fiasco highlighted systemic vulnerabilities that could undermine the integrity of future elections. With the 2024 elections on the horizon, Mississippi lawmakers needed to take proactive steps to prevent the recurrence of such incidents and to fortify the state’s election processes.

Mississippi’s history with voter suppression is well-documented, and past events have reignited concerns about the state’s commitment to ensuring free and fair elections. The 2023 ballot shortages, which affected at least nine precincts, resulted from administrative oversights and inadequate training for election commissioners. These deficiencies disenfranchised voters and sparked national outrage and legal interventions to keep polling places open longer on Election Day. This incident was a stark reminder that more must be done to safeguard the voting rights of all Mississippians.

The state’s electoral framework needs immediate attention and reform. A crucial starting point is the comprehensive retraining of election commissioners. The current once-a-year training the Election Commission Association of Mississippi holds is insufficient. As Commissioner RaToya Gilmer McGee pointed out, lacking consistent training and updated policies means that any institutional knowledge leaves with outgoing commissioners. Training must be more frequent, detailed and standardized across the state’s 82 counties to ensure all commissioners are well-equipped to handle their responsibilities.

Moreover, the process of ordering and distributing ballots must be overhauled. The use of outdated systems and the reliance on manual corrections during crises reveal significant operational gaps. Implementing a robust, automated system for ballot ordering and distribution—with real-time monitoring and error-checking capabilities—can help prevent the mistakes that led to the 2023 shortages. This system should be coupled with a contingency plan for rapid ballot printing and distribution to address any unexpected demands on Election Day.

Black man putting vote in voting box
“The integrity of our elections and the faith of our citizens in the democratic process depend on (implementing necessary reforms),” Malone writes. Photo by Unsplash/Getty Images

Transparency and accountability are also paramount. The lack of communication between the Hinds County Election Commission and the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office during the ballot-shortage crisis is unacceptable. Secretary of State Michael Watson’s delayed response and minimal engagement with local election officials exacerbated the situation. To foster trust and ensure swift resolution of electoral issues, there must be clear, established lines of communication and accountability between state and county election officials. Regular audits and public reporting of election preparations and outcomes should be mandated to maintain transparency and to build public confidence.

In addition to these administrative reforms, it is essential to address broader systemic issues that have long plagued Mississippi’s electoral landscape. Voter-suppression tactics such as stringent voter-ID laws, purging of voter rolls and limited access to early voting and absentee ballots continue to disenfranchise marginalized communities. Lawmakers must work to dismantle these barriers and create an inclusive voting environment. This includes expanding early-voting options, ensuring ample polling places in all communities and implementing same-day voter registration to facilitate broader participation in the democratic process.

As we approach the 2024 elections, the call to action for Mississippi is clear. Lawmakers, election officials and community leaders must come together to implement these necessary reforms. The integrity of our elections and the faith of our citizens in the democratic process depend on it. Failure to act will not only perpetuate the cycle of disenfranchisement and mistrust. However, it will also undermine the very foundation of our democracy.

Mississippi can set an example for the nation by prioritizing electoral integrity and voter rights. By addressing the issues that led to the 2023 ballot shortages and taking proactive steps to ensure fair and accessible elections, we can restore confidence in our electoral system and uphold the democratic values that are the bedrock of our society. The time for action is now, and we are responsible for ensuring that every Mississippian’s voice is heard and that every vote is counted. We must remember that Medgar Evers gave his life for our right to vote, and we must honor his legacy by safeguarding this fundamental right.

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Crirec, its staff or board members. To submit an opinion for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and sources fact-checking the included information to [email protected]. We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.

Columnist Duvalier Malone is the author of "Those Who Give A Damn: A Manual for Making a Difference," a motivational speaker, community activist, and CEO of Duvalier Malone Enterprises, a global consulting firm. He lives in Washington, D.C.