Secretary of State Michael Watson, a Republican, said March 26 on WLOX-TV that he opposes any move by the federal government to set new rules about voter registration or mail-in voting. Photo courtesy Mississippi Secretary of State's Office
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi's top elections official says he thinks people are doing a “hatchet job” on him over comments he made in a television interview about “woke” and “uninformed” voters on college campuses.
Secretary of State Michael Watson, a Republican, said March 26 on WLOX-TV that he opposes any move by the federal government to set new rules about voter registration or mail-in voting.
“Think about all these ‘woke’ college university students now who would automatically be registered to vote, whether they wanted to or not,” Watson said. “Again, if they didn’t know to opt out, they would be automatically registered to vote. And then they receive this mail-in ballot that they didn’t even know was coming because they didn’t know they registered to vote. You have an uninformed citizen who may not be prepared and ready to vote, automatically it’s forced on them, ‘Hey, go and make a choice.’ And our country’s going to pay for those choices.”
The Mississippi Free Press first reported Watson's comments about "woke voters," which initially attracted no media attention, on April 6.
Watson attended a state Supreme Court hearing Wednesday about the state's initiative process. Afterward, he answered reporters' questions about his televised remarks.
“I think that those comments were probably taken out of context in a hatchet job in the sense that our job is to make sure that every Mississippian who is a United States citizen, who is a legal resident of our state, has the ability to vote,” said Watson, a former state senator who became secretary of state in January 2020.
Watson said Mississippi registered 113,000 new voters last year, including some on college campuses. He said he has concerns about proposals from President Joe Biden and other Democrats to expand access to ballots.
“It’s going to really broaden the ability, in my mind, for there to be some election fraud -- when you talk about automatic voter registration, when you talk about universal vote by mail, when you talk about ballot harvesting, when you talk about drop boxes, all that coming into play,” Watson said Wednesday.
“Really, the idea was, and what our country was founded on, is having an engaged citizenry who understand the issues, who want to play a role in the future of our country,” he said. “And then when you put this all in individuals who may not be, who don’t even know that they are registered to vote, who aren’t doing research, who aren’t interested in the future of our country, that is when the questions arise.”
Asked Wednesday what he meant by “woke" college students, Watson said: “You’ve got these far-left, liberal professors who are really teaching our university and college students to hate our country.”
Watson has faced sharp criticism for his comments, including from Democratic former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus, who said last week on Twitter: “His talking points are from 1950s. Slightly updated. Literacy tests anyone?”
Literacy tests were outlawed by the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. The tests could include impossible questions like how many bubbles are in a bar of soap, and they were among the discriminatory measures that Mississippi and other Southern states used to suppress Black voting.