In Mississippi and a lot of other places, there’s a belief that anything that makes it easier for people to vote is good for Democrats, and anything that asks voters to do something extra is good for Republicans.
It was this belief that created such rancor in the previous decade over requiring voter ID at the polls. The change was both oversold by Republicans as a curative to voter fraud and overdemonized by Democrats as a deterrent to participation by minorities and the poor. Voter ID turned out to be no big deal.
This year, there are two main pushes going on in the Mississippi Legislature related to voting: one would make it easier for voters to cast their ballots early; another would make it easier to remove from the rolls voters who have died or moved away.
Regrettably, there is no bipartisan consensus on either proposal.
Republicans, who used to think more early voting — at least the in-person variety — was a good thing, have turned against the idea because of how Donald Trump and his hard-core supporters have falsely equated early voting with election fraud. It should be more aptly equated with election turnout.
It was widely demonstrated in 2020 that more people will vote if given more opportunities to do so. The total votes cast not only for Joe Biden but also for Trump, the defeated incumbent, broke previous records for presidential elections. Some of that was due to Trump’s polarizing nature, which drove up the turnout from those who worshipped him and also from those who despised him. Also playing a role, however, were the steps that the states took, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, to reduce the health risks of casting a ballot by expanding early voting, both by mail and in person. The idea of trying to force most people to vote on one day during a 12-hour time period is a quaint tradition but an antiquated one in a society that is driven to seek greater convenience.
It must be acknowledged, though, that the expansion of early voting, especially with mail-in ballots, creates a higher potential for fraud unless there is a mechanism in place to reliably verify a voter’s signature, as exists in only some states. Although there is no evidence of result-tilting fraud in the 2020 contest, there is always an increased potential for it when voter rolls are bloated with the names of people who have died or moved away. In Mississippi, bloated voter rolls have been a chronic problem. Last year, the Secretary of State’s Office reported that seven counties, including Leflore, had more registered voters than residents of voting age. That’s only possible when voting rolls have not been religiously updated.
A bill in the Senate would try to address the problem by requiring Mississippi’s county election registrars to mail an address verification form to any voter who has not cast a ballot in two years. If the voter receiving the notice didn’t respond or vote within four years, then the voter’s name could be removed from the rolls. Democrats and their supporters on the left are screaming, as they did with voter ID, that this is another effort to suppress voter turnout.
Indeed, two years of non-voting is too quick to trigger a confirmation notice. Four years or possibly eight make more sense in identifying those whose presence in the county where they are registered needs to be confirmed.
We’d like to see a bipartisan agreement to pair the ideas: expand early voting, including through mail, but at the same time take steps to get the voting rolls as clean as reasonably possible.
Together, these two paths would encourage voter participation in elections without jeopardizing trust in the results.