Voting changes needed in Mississippi
The United States of America is built on the people’s right to elect our government. Following a U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a few months ago, states across the South are considering changes regarding elections and this constitutional right. What should Mississippi do?
Our laws should be based on the fundamental principle that the more citizen participation we have, the stronger our state will be. We must work for an elections system that is open and accountable. We ought to be equally concerned about a citizen who cannot exercise a constitutional right as we are about a person seeking to commit voter fraud. We ought to strive to see that every legally cast ballot is counted, not thrown out due to antiquated laws or human error.
First, it’s important to look at where we stand. The most authoritative study of state voting laws (published by the Pew Center on the States before the Supreme Court decision) ranked Mississippi 51st in access and integrity of its elections. It is important to note this ranking is not based on Voter ID (either positively or negatively) but on a lack of access, efficiency and data measurement. We need to do better. Here are some changes Mississippi ought to make:
• Early voting. Already in place in 34 states, early voting reduces lines at the polling place and the need for sending absentee ballots through the mail, cutting down on the potential for fraud and making it easier for people to vote.
• Same-day voter registration. Now that a photo ID will be required to cast a ballot, Mississippi should adopt same-day voter registration, a practice allowed in 12 states. Once a citizen shows a current ID at the polling place, it is a simple process to complete a voter registration form and vote following a process already in place for affidavit balloting.
• Better information for voters. The state should provide a single website to answer basic questions such as: Who represents me? Where do I vote? What will be on the ballot on election day? Although some counties provide this information now, the state can easily do it for all 82 counties.
• Mississippians should be allowed to register to vote online. Already in place in 14 states with six more states adding the practice next year, online registration saves money and reduces errors in voter rolls. Mississippians have used mail-in voter registration for 20 years. Today, a citizen must print a paper form from a website, complete it with a pen, put a stamp on it and mail it to the circuit clerk, where a staff person will enter the information in the computer. This is simply inefficient.
Voters can enter their own information, receive instant information on their polling place and can easily change an address when they move.
And, of course, under current state law, these voters show an ID the first time they go to the polls.
This is a reform gaining bipartisan support across the country. The choice for Mississippi is whether we will continue the American tradition of expanding participation and the right to vote or whether we will choose a series of expensive court fights in an effort to make voting more restrictive. All Mississippians are proud of the progress we have made. We ought to continue that progress and set an example for other Southern states to follow.
Sen. David Blount represents Hinds County. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.