By Sid Salter
STARKVILLE – Mississippi voters are expected to easily approve a voter ID initiative on the 2011 general election ballot. Voter ID requirements are long overdue in Mississippi and have reached the ballot over the most specious and manufactured objections.
But as the state’s chief election officer confirmed this week, voter ID gets the most headlines while absentee ballot fraud actually has the potential to do the most harm in Mississippi elections.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has sounded a valid alarm in Mississippi politics. Hosemann has confirmed that absentee ballots as a percentage of total votes cast has tripled in the last three elections in Mississippi from 2 percent to 6 percent. More troubling, in 20 of the state’s 82 counties, absentee ballots made up 10 percent or more of total votes cast.
Quitman County – where 29 percent or 1,040 of 3,580 votes were cast with absentee ballots – set the pace. In 19 other counties, absentee ballots accounted for between 10 to 18 percent of each county’s total vote: Claiborne, Grenada, Issaquena, Noxubee, Greene, Sharkey, Humphreys, Carroll, Clay, Holmes, Leflore, Tallahatchie, Benton, Jefferson, Alcorn, Franklin, Montgomery, Walthall and Winston.
Note that Benton and Noxubee counties are in that number. State convictions against Benton County officials have proven that voter ID is indeed needed and that opposition to it is far more partisan posturing than the statement of any real grievances.
Three years ago, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans agreed with U.S. District Judge Tom S. Lee of Forest that Noxubee County Democratic Party Chairman Ike Brown systematically violated white voters’ rights.
The landmark case marks the first time in history that the federal government has used the 1965 Voting Rights Act to protect the rights of white voters.
Lee in 2007 ruled in favor of the U.S. Justice Department officials who claimed that Brown disenfranchised white voters in Noxubee County in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Brown appealed the ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and a three-judge panel later affirmed Lee’s ruling.
The feds proved that Brown and his loyalists rigged the voting process against white voters by manipulating voter rolls, making threats to ban some whites from voting and miscounting ballots to ensure white candidates lost, and committing other discriminatory acts.
In 2009, after the 5th Circuit upheld Lee’s decision in the Ike Brown case, Brown told the Associated Press that he denied trying to limit anyone’s rights. Brown told the AP he was proud of his efforts to get more blacks to vote, whether by absentee ballot or getting them to the polls.
“Did Judge Lee rule I kept anybody from voting? No,” Brown said. “Did Judge Lee rule that I kept anybody from running? No. Judge Lee said because there were so many blacks voting absentee, it must be fraudulent. How do you defend against that? Nobody has brought charges of absentee voting fraud in Noxubee County.”
Hosemann’s probe of the seemingly excessive absentee ballots in 20 counties across the state could change that reality in Noxubee County – where 15 percent of the total vote came from absentee ballots in the 2011 primaries. That, of course, was down from over 20 percent in prior elections.
The Legislature should take Hosemann’s research as a signal to begin a serious debate of absentee ballot reform. The state has winked and nudged at the obvious abuses of the process for far too long.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (662) 325-2506 or firstname.lastname@example.org.