2016 Is the Year To Make Early Voting a Reality | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

2016 Is the Year To Make Early Voting a Reality

As we enter the 2015 election cycle, it's worth noting that Mississippi is down to one of only 14 states that has no provision for early voting and requires an excuse for absentee voting. (Previously, when we wrote a similar editorial in 2008, there were 20 states left with no early voting option. Six have since changed that.)

After spending a great deal of time and money on voter ID—a focus that is widely perceived to be a Republican gambit to suppress the vote of poor and minority voters—it would do the state some good to focus on expanding access to the ballot box by implementing an intelligent form of early voting.

The options range from voting by mail—the preferred approach in the Pacific Northwest states of Oregon and Washington—to the early, in-person voting that states such as Texas, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee offer.

No-excuse early voting makes it possible for people to vote on a lunch-break, or when they have a day off in the weeks prior to the election. In some states, you can vote on a Saturday—in a few you can vote on a Sunday.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, now running for president in the 2016 election, brought up the issue in part to suggest that the GOP has focused more on limiting access to the ballot than increasing it, a criticism that certainly would ring true in the Magnolia State.

But, Mississippi's inaction might also offer an opportunity to figure out what works best and implement that system. Texas has one of the most vibrant no-excuse early voting systems, where any county larger than 100,000 must have a satellite office open at different hours to allow people to cast votes prior to election day; in the 2014 election, about one-third of Dallas County's votes were cast early.

Early voting reduces lines at polls and makes voting more convenient. It can also help cut down on the most typical form of voter fraud—absentee fraud—which is not addressed by voter ID laws.

Clinton called for early voting to include weekend voting (not always guaranteed in the Texas system) and universal voter registration at the age of 18.

Unfortunately, Mississippi Republicans have a history of turning away even pilot programs for early voting; in 2009, then-Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant led the charge to kill a voter ID compromise bill because it included an early voting provision.

Mississippi has spent enough time restricting people's right to vote. Barring special session, it's too late for 2015, but in the 2016 legislative session, it's time for Mississippi to join some of its neighbors in enacting intelligent absentee voting laws to shorten lines, increase access, cut down on potential absentee fraud and send the message that our democracy is open to all eligible citizens.

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