By Sid Salter
STARKVILLE – Supporters of voter ID laws across the country have embraced the notion that such laws serve as a deterrent to voter fraud and safeguard the free exercise of the right to vote. Moreover, those same supporters have rejected the accusations that voter ID laws constitute acts of voter suppression that should be compared to the old horrors of poll taxes, literacy tests and overt voter intimidation of minority or poor voters.
The voter suppression argument becomes all the more specious in Section 5 states like Mississippi. Mississippi is one of nine states declared “covered jurisdictions” under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. “Covered jurisdiction” states, counties and municipalities cannot implement voting law changes without federal “preclearance” by the Justice Department – a Justice Department that in great measure requires a citizen to produce an ID just to be allowed to enter its buildings.
But it likewise stands to reason that if voter ID laws should exist to make voter fraud more difficult as a safeguard of the right to vote, early voting laws would likewise be beneficial to help make the opportunity to vote easier and more accessible. According to a July 2011 report by the National Conference of State Legislatures, 32 states allow in-person early voting, and of those 32 states, 27 allow both in-person early and no-excuse absentee mail voting.
Traditionally, Republicans in Mississippi have favored voter ID and opposed early voting. Democrats have favored early voting and opposed voter ID. The suggestion that both election “reforms” don’t have a strong basis in achieving partisan gain is simply ludicrous. But the numbers don’t particularly support Republican opposition to early voting. In 2008, the GOP carried 17 of the 32 states that had adopted no-excuse early voting. In the Southeast, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee all permit no-excuse, in-person early voting at election offices or other satellite locations. The GOP carried every one of those states except Florida in 2008.
The empirical evidence for Southern Republicans is that early voting has helped them far more than it has hurt them.
In the 2008 presidential election, Democrat Barack Obama carried 28 states, 13 of which had early voting. Republican nominee John McCain carried 22 states, 17 of which had early voting.
We live in a vastly different society today, one in which we fill our prescriptions at drive-through windows after renewing them on Web sites. Church services are now available earlier on Sunday for those who don’t choose to attend a traditional 11 a.m. service.
Students pursue their educations in online distance learning classes. We can arm and disarm our residential alarm systems using cell phone applications from three states away.
But we resist making voting easier and more convenient. Even as a voter ID supporter, I recognize that Mississippi’s larger issue in voter fraud is absentee ballot abuse. Why not address this rather blatant manipulation of the voting process with both absentee ballot reforms and the addition of early voting?
The participatory benefits of early voting can be achieved while tightening the obvious abuses of absentee ballots in a state in which in more than a fourth of Mississippi’s 82 counties in 2011, at least 10 percent of the total votes cast were by absentee ballots.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601)-507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.