Sid Salter Column

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 5, 2009


Salter: Voter ID, early voting intertwined as initiatives

While the merits of both issues would seem to make partisan infighting almost silly, the fact remains that Mississippi legislators will find the contentious issues of voter identification and early voting politically intertwined during the 2009 regular session.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

State Republicans have long pushed for voter ID requirements, citing voter fraud concerns. State Democrats have long pushed back against such regulations, citing the state’s history of literacy tests, poll taxes and voter intimidation.

Early voting is less easily pigeon-holed along partisan lines. Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann supports early voting, but is also a proponent of voter ID laws.

But state Republican Party chairman Brad White enunciates the position of many Mississippi Republicans on early voting.

“My first inclination is that we’ve got a current election system that is in great measure unregulated,” said White. “Until we adequately regulate the election system we’ve got in Mississippi, why put in another system? The present absentee ballot system is already taken advantage of in some counties more than others.”

State Democrats have generally opposed voter ID legislation as a threat to voter participation while supporting early voting as a means to expand voter participation in state elections.

But like Hosemann, Democratic state Rep. Brandon Jones of Pascagoula is pushing both early voting and voter ID as needed state election reforms.

“Another way Mississippi could modernize its election system is by joining 33 other states in allowing no-excuse early voting,” said Jones in a recent column on the topic. “A study by the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate shows that in the 11 states that had early voting in both 2002 and 2004, turnout increased by an aggregate average of 7.2 percentage points as opposed to 6.2 in states without early voting.”

In Mississippi, the only “early” votes are absentee ballots that are available beginning 45 days before an election, but only for certain excused reasons including the voters knowing that they’ll be out of their home county on election day or disability or voters past age 65. College students and members of the armed forces can often vote absentee ballots.

Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina have “no excuse” early voting and “no excuse” absentee ballots. Alabama, Kentucky and Mississippi have “excuse” driven absentee ballots, but no other early voting.

Tennessee and Texas have “no excuse” early voting, but require excuses for absentee ballots.

While there’s no factual basis to support the beliefs, Republicans believe that early voting will benefit Democrats while Democrats believe that voter ID will benefit Republicans. Given those beliefs, the political dynamics of election reform in Mississippi will dictate that it will be virtually impossible to get early voting without voter ID or voter ID without early voting.

The fact is that early voting is no panacea for increasing voter turnout just as voter ID is no panacea to eliminating election fraud. The fact is that absentee ballots in Mississippi still present the greatest opportunity for political mischief.

But the rise of partisanship in the state’s legislative process has made election reform yet another issue in which both sides will need an opportunity to claim “victory” if any legislation is to be enacted.

Mississippi needs both voter ID and early voting provisions.

(Contact Perspective Editor Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail Visit his blog at