By Charlie Mitchell
OXFORD – Word is that voter ID will pass on Nov. 8. Fine. No problem requiring people to show a picture before voting. Calling it intimidation in 2011 is nonsense.
But it’s worse nonsense to think that placing a voter ID requirement in the Mississippi Constitution will, of itself, add integrity and trustworthiness to the electoral process.
Cheaters will still cheat – until or unless enough of them are sent to prison for making a mockery of the one-person, one-vote precept that is foundational to self-rule. Put an ID requirement in the vaunted position of the state’s organic law, but remember that it’s the people in the trenches – local polling places – who choose whether to cheat.
Magic wand “solutions” are everywhere in our culture.
For example, there’s the notion that providing more money to education will, all by itself, make students more attentive.
The recipe for learning is a competent teacher and a motivated student. Other factors are helpful. Better pay is likely, on average, to attract more competent teachers. But the worst teacher in the world can’t keep an eager student from learning. And the best teacher in the world would be hard-pressed to entice a student who sees no point in gaining knowledge or skills.
There’s also the magic wand “solution” that taxing the rich will provide a workable, long-term solution for America’s budget.
No amount of additional income will help as long as Congress spends more and more every year regardless of the cash flow.
Term limits. Starting more than 20 years ago, states (not including Mississippi, where voters declined to jump on the bandwagon) decided that career politicians were the problem and that capping their service was a magical fix. So, many states now have term limits. There’s no indication term limits have served any purpose other than to let a calendar on the wall replace the judgment of voters in deciding who should stay and who should go.
On any given day, we hear politicians as well as regular folks offer single-shot solutions. “Yep. That’s what they ought to do.” Some sound pretty good, but the best are patches and the worst are deceptive.
Voter ID has for many years served as such a foil in Mississippi. The subtext is, “If only we had it, government would improve, be more responsive.”
In the first place, there is no widespread epidemic of fraudulent elections in Mississippi. Further, as Democratic gubernatorial nominee Johnny DuPree points out, the treachery that does take place is outside the realm of an ID requirement. Dupree, who has won three mayoral elections in Hattiesburg, correctly says the real areas of abuse are vote-buying and absentee ballots.
To his credit, Republican gubernatorial nominee Phil Bryant hasn’t been heard to say adding a voter ID requirement in Mississippi, which he supports, is a cure-all for election problems.
The Mississippi officials on the front line of voter-related matters are secretaries of state, supported by attorneys general.
The state has been fortunate. Former Secretary of State Eric Clark and current Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann have had success cleaning up local poll books and trying to set higher standards for conducting local elections and reporting of results.
Clark initiated the effort to compile a statewide voter list and end the madness of more than a dozen Mississippi counties with more registered voters than living residents. Failing to keep voter rolls up to date is an open invitation to the type of cheating most often seen – people voting absentee in the names of people who are dead or who moved away long ago.
But policing is an ongoing process and requires the best efforts of local officials who work in obscurity and who are rarely challenged. Most of these folks are exemplars of civic virtue. A smattering are snakes.
To ferret them out, there has been an increasing number of prosecutions initiated by Hosemann and taken to court by Attorney General Jim Hood and local court officials who refuse to look the other way. In April, a woman named Lessadolla Sowers actually got a five-year prison sentence from Circuit Judge Charles Webster in Tunica County after being accused of voting 31 times.
So pass voter ID, one of three proposed changes on the ballot. It won’t hurt anything.
But remember that the integrity and trustworthiness of an election depends almost entirely on the standards a community sets for itself when it selects people to administer voting. The cheaters will look at voter ID as just one more law to ignore.
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at Box 1, University, MS 38677, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.