Mississippi remains outlier in early voting
From microwave popcorn to digital grocery shopping to telemedicine, our citizens worship time and the technology that saves time. But in Mississippi and a few other states, we reject the notion of our obsession with time and convenience when it comes to voting.
Efforts to modernize Mississippi’s election and voting laws through changes that include early voting provisions have failed time and time again. Critics of early voting have a reliable script — it creates low information voters, it doesn’t eliminate voter fraud, and it negates the concept of poll watchers.
In 2014, two Northwestern law professors refined their criticism: “For all its conveniences, early voting threatens the basic nature of citizen choice in democratic, republican government. In elections, candidates make competing appeals to the people and provide them with the information necessary to choose. Citizens also engage with one another, debating and deliberating about the best options for the country. Especially in an age of so many nonpolitical distractions, it is important to preserve the space of a general election campaign — from the early kickoff rallies to the last debates in October — to allow voters to think through, together, the serious issues that face the nation.”
But proponents point to convenience, flexibility, increased access and public health to support the early voting concept. Here’s what the National Conference of State Legislatures has to say about early voting:
More than two-thirds of the states — 39, plus the District of Columbia — offer some early voting. Early voting allows voters to visit an election official’s office or, in some states, other satellite voting locations, and cast a vote in person without offering an excuse for why the voter is unable to vote on Election Day. Delaware recently enacted early voting laws, but they won’t become effective until 2022.
Some states also allow voters to fill out and cast their absentee ballot in person at the official elections office or at a satellite location rather than returning through the mail. This is often referred to as in-person absentee voting. Satellite voting locations vary by state and may include other county and state offices (besides the election official’s office), grocery stores, shopping malls, schools, libraries and other locations.
In Mississippi, the only “early” votes are absentee ballots that are available beginning 45 days before an election, but only for specific 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.
Nine states, Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, do not offer pre-Election Day in-person voting options.
Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina have “no excuse” early voting. Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina have “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. In other words, Mississippi is outside the mainstream of most states in terms of early voting. And in a society that worships time, in a sense, there can be no real reason for that fact beyond partisan considerations, fears or strategies.
But opponents of early voting make two compelling arguments — first that traditional polling place voting is infrequent and a citizen’s duty that is worthy of going to the trouble to vote. Second, those same opponents quote the late British Labor Party Prime Minister Harold Wilson: “A week is a long time in politics.”
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.