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Increase in absentee vote in need of more attention

While voter turnout appeared to be down from 2008 across much of the nation, Lincoln County’s voter participation rate this year topped 66 percent.

     That local turnout was no doubt aided by a special election for circuit clerk that saw eight candidates in the running. Dustin Bairfield and Janie Sisco were the two top vote-getters and will advance to a Nov. 27 runoff, where turnout will be especially important in deciding the winner.

     Regardless of their reasons for turning out, voters deserve applause for taking an active role in such robust numbers. Would that the turnout could be that high for every election.

     Also deserving of note is an election night vote-counting process that went off relatively smoothly and with seemingly few hitches. The counting process by election commissioners and other officials was completed around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday – not a great time, but understandable given the number of ballots involved.

     Regarding the number of ballots, more than 1,900 were cast via the absentee process. That appeared to add a couple of hours to the counting time as each absentee ballot had to be handled and fed one at a time into the tabulating machine.

     Those 1,900 absentee ballots represented almost 12 percent of the total number of votes cast in this year’s election. That is well above the just over 7 percent who voted via absentee ballot in last November’s general election.

     This year’s totals offer more evidence that people are voting absentee simply to avoid the perceived hassle of standing in line at a precinct on Election Day. There are many legitimate reasons for voting absentee, but the possibility of more nefarious motives cannot be discounted. We are not a fan of early voting for that reason.

     Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann remains concerned about the potential for voter fraud through the mail-in absentee process. We agree with the secretary.

     Many states, admittedly some with much larger populations than Mississippi, have early voting which reduced the lines for Election Day. Mississippi’s small population does not have that issue but we effectively have a early voting process in our absentees system, but its paper base is problematic. Perhaps it is time for Mississippi to consider a hybrid absentee process that involves electronic voting.

     Setting up a voting machine at the circuit clerk’s office, in much the same fashion as at a precinct on Election Day, would allow those who those who must be out of town on voting day, to come in early and vote at their convenience. It should minimize the number of paper ballots that have to be handled in the counting process on election night and thus increase the speed of the vote count. For the infirmed or those working out-of-state, a paper mail-in system would still be available.

     By all indications, this year’s election was a satisfactory operation by all involved.

     However, there is always room for improvement. Having a machine set up in the circuit clerk’s office for paperless electronic absentee voting could be a way to advance toward that goal.