A group of Mississippi leaders met Friday to discuss the roadblocks that exist for people to vote, focusing primarily on potential legislation that would allow early voting and online voter registration.
Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, Secretary of State Attorney Kim Turner, and Executive Director of NAACP Mississippi Corey Wiggins participated in a panel on expanding voter access.
The event was hosted by the ACLU of Mississippi at the Mississippi College School of Law.
“I believe the government will be better off if more people participate,” said Blount, who is the vice-chair of the Senate Elections Committee. “The fewer people participate, the weaker your government will be. The balancing act has always been participation and people being freely able to express their right, and any concerns that people may have about fraud.”
In 2011, Mississippi voters approved a bill to require bringing a voter ID to cast a ballot. The law, which Blount said during the panel he opposes, went into effect in 2014. It requires voters show one of 10 forms of photo identification.
“We talk about fraud, waste and abuse in Medicaid, we talk about fraud, waste and abuse in SNAP programs, we talk about fraud, waste and abuse of any public assistance program that is out there,” Wiggins said, “but we have yet to find substantial amounts of data that shows that exists. So I talk about that same context when we’re talking about the ability of people to vote.
“Particularly in a state where we’re struggling from a budgetary standpoint, and we want to spend money to limit opportunity for folks to vote; looking at the number of cases of fraud and abuse, just look at the data and see: is it worth the investment?”
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann pushed reform to implement both early voting and online registration in 2016.
The ACLU plans to revive those efforts this legislative session with bills sponsored by Rep. Jarvis Dortch, D-Raymond, and Rep. Noah Sanford, R-Collins, in the House and Sen. Hillman Terome Frazier, D-Jackson, in the Senate.
Turner explained that passing such reform presents logistical obstacles for getting election officials, clerks and poll workers all on the same page.
“Early voting is a non-partisan matter,” she said. “Every election official in the state wants to see increased voter participation and ease to cast your ballot, but you have 410 commissioners and 82 clerks that are all going to have a different view about how this should and who should be responsible for what.”
Those obstacles include planning specific details, Turner said, like figuring out where to keep voting machines for early voters and ensuring the ballots are secure.
“It poses a challenge, and [the clerks and election officials] already have a lot of work as it is right now. You’re adding one more thing without any additional pay or compensation,” she said.
Along with the ACLU, the League of Women Voters, Mississippi Votes, and Women for Progress of Mississippi helped organize the panel.
“There’s a moral obligation, a birthright to participate in having a voice in how you want your community to look,” Wiggins said. “As a country, and as a state particularly, we make it hard for folks to exercise that right.”
According to the United States Election Project, an online study of voter participation, Mississippi ranked 44th in turnout with 55.5 percent in the general election in 2016.