Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 28, 2016

Salter: Hosemann’s election reforms worthy of passage

Whether it is libertarian supporters of Republican former state Sen. Melanie Sojourner or fans of former Democratic state Rep. Blaine “Bo” Eaton, on any given day one can find a vocal group of Mississippians who aren’t happy with the operation of elections in this state.
That’s despite the honest efforts of a lot of local election commissioners and poll workers who work hard to do things right in most instances. That’s despite the efforts of an active and honest Elections Division at the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office.
To that end, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has worked with a bipartisan study group to bring forth a substantial revamp of Mississippi’s election laws. The proposed election law changes are extremely worthwhile and in great measure would bring Mississippi elections into the modern era.
First, the proposed changes would consolidate election crimes into one main section in the Mississippi Code and would bring penalties for violators into line with other felonies and misdemeanors under state law.
Second, the proposal would provide for online voter registration for Mississippi residents with a valid Mississippi driver’s license or a state-issued identification card. In addition, the study group’s recommendations provide for “no excuse” early voting to allow registered voters to cast their ballots up to 21 days prior to an election at their respective county courthouses.
The election law changes would tighten financial disclosure requirements and transparency while putting a few teeth in the state’s disclosure requirement in the form of penalties for non-compliance.
Finally, the proposal would move the state’s presidential preference primary from the second Tuesday in March to the first Tuesday or “Super Tuesday” – which would increase the state’s relevance in presidential campaigns and bring us more in line with the rest of the South.
Mississippi Republicans finally won their long war for voter identification and Hosemann’s implementation of it left detractors without much argument over fairness or enforcement. But it’s also true that Republicans in the state resisted online voter registration and early voting with the same vigor that Democrats resisted voter ID.
Hosemann was one Republican who supports early voting, but was also a proponent of voter ID laws. And why not? 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 under current law are absentee ballots that are available beginning 45 days before an election, but only for certain excused reasons including the voter 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, many Republicans believe that early voting will benefit Democrats in the same way that Democrats long believed that voter ID would benefit Republicans.
Early voting isn’t some mysterious, unknown force lurking in the darkness to plunge elections into turmoil. An analysis by the U.S. Voting Project at George Mason University shows that in the 2008 presidential election, some 39.7 million people or about 30 percent of the total votes cast in the election were cast either by early mail-in or early in-person votes – up from 20 percent in the 2004 presidential election.
In the 2008 presidential election, Democrat Barack Obama carried 28 states – 13 of which had early voting. Republican nominee John McCain carried 22 states – 17 of which had early voting. The suggestion that early voting somehow represents a danger – even a partisan danger – to Republicans is pretty ludicrous.
Mississippi needs early voting provisions and online voter registration. Hosemann’s elections reforms are well-considered and should be adopted.
(Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com)

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