OUR OPINION: Voting law reform needed

By NEMS Daily Journal

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s package of proposed election-law reforms would address in substantial measure concerns about rising numbers of absentee ballots and the practice of individuals, in some cases, witnessing scores of ballots.
Hosemann has said, correctly we believe, that absentee voting has become a form of “early voting” for some electors when, in fact, the Mississippi statute was never intended to provide unlimited excuses for people to vote early.
Some states have early voting, but no statute has passed in Mississippi.
We stand by our opinion that flexibility that takes into account legitimate reasons for not being able to get to the polls on election day and permits absentee voting is a good thing for the democratic process, which is enhanced by the broadest participation possible.
However, laxity in enforcing requirements apparently is one reason the absentee count has soared, plus the practice of allowing an individual to witness unlimited numbers of ballots.
Circuit clerks statewide can crack down on requiring listing of legitimate reasons, but a limit in law is needed to hold down the number of ballots witnessed by an individual.
Hosemann has proposed legislation that “places limits on the number of absentee ballots and absentee ballot applications an individual may witness to family members, plus ten (10) voters.”
Some version of that restriction should be passable in both chambers.
Hosemann’s legislative list includes other important changes:
* Implementing in law a voter ID requirement as approved by Mississippi voters in November 2011. The constitutional amendment mandate cannot take effect until a statute is on the books and is approved by the U.S. Justice Department.
* Authorizes enlisted military and citizens temporarily living overseas who are absent from their counties on election day to electronically sign absentee ballots.
* Designate the Circuit Court as the only court where an initial petition for judicial review of an election contest can be filed.
* Clarify that the Supreme Court must send judges hearing election disputes to “the county in which the election dispute occurs.”
* Require all Circuit Clerks to process absentee ballot applications and absentee ballots through the Statewide Elections Management System.
The rules for absentee voting are generous as written, but a reason for not being able to vote in person on election day must be stated.
Voters with questions should contact: Heath Hillman, Assistant Secretary of State of Elections at (601) 359-6360 or Heath.Hillman@sos.ms.gov, or Lin Floyd, Legislative Director/Special Assistant to the Secretary of State at (601) 359-3123 or Lindell.Floyd@sos.ms.gov.