Early voting, online registration lose in voting bill

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Election reforms proposed by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann passed the Senate unanimously on Wednesday with two major omissions — early voting and online registration.

The majority of the changes approved by the Senate involve stricter rules regarding campaign finance reporting, though other changes were proposed to clean up outdated terminology and procedures.

Two other election-related bills also passed, with all three going back to the House and likely to end up in conference committees before final action.

“The Mississippi Senate took another step in passing historic election code legislation with bipartisan cooperation,” Hosemann said in a statement. “Not in recent memory has any such massive election or voting legislation passed with unanimous support, truly remarkable.”

Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson

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Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson

“What we’re all trying to get to is a bill that makes technical changes, not policy changes,” said Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson. “I think what we’re going to get to is a bill that is overdue that makes a lot of changes needed and makes the elections process better for everybody, regardless of political party.”

Numerous changes were made to campaign finance rules. Most notably, candidates would have to individually itemize funds paid to a credit card or other online payment method.

The bill in its current form would also prohibit lawmakers from soliciting campaign funds during a legislative session, although Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven and chairwoman of the Elections committee, said that aspect might be changed in conference committee.

Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven

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Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven

Other key changes include moving municipal elections from May to April, establishing staggered terms for election commissioners, mandating that polling places comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and requiring that unopposed candidates be listed on primary election ballots.

Doty, who took questions during the debate, was pressed by multiple senators about the omission of the original bill’s early voting clause, which is authorized in 37 other states.

Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, offered an amendment Wednesday that would allow citizens to vote up to 21 days prior to election day. Doty said the early voting would create a financial burden on county clerks, and the amendment failed by voice vote.

“You’re saying to me that Mississippians want to vote early, and we won’t allow it because it’s a little more expensive?” said Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood. “Why can’t we put extra resources into something that’s needed?”

Two other election bills were passed Wednesday – one that would allow voters to update their registration information online (but not register online), and one that would impose stricter penalties on those who committed election crimes.