OXFORD — Given the heated rhetoric of this year’s campaign, the age and temperament of the candidates, along with a worldwide pandemic, this may be the most unusual presidential election in my lifetime.
I’ve already carried out my civic responsibility. Too bad everyone in Mississippi can’t vote as easily as my wife and I did the other day at the Lafayette County Courthouse in Oxford.
No-excuse early voting — in Mississippi it’s called absentee voting — is one of the advantages of being over 65. All that’s required for someone age-eligible for Medicare is to show up at the circuit clerk’s office with a picture ID such as a driver’s license.
A friendly clerk checks the voter rolls, confirms you are eligible to cast a ballot and directs you through necessary steps to vote and seal the ballot in an envelope, which is notarized free of charge.
Voting absentee by mail is more complicated in that you must first request and receive a ballot, take necessary steps to validate it and find a qualified person to notarize it.
All this is handled easily at the circuit clerk’s office, and I would encourage those able to vote in person to do it there if they can’t or don’t want to go to the polls on election day.
Mississippi should extend the same right to vote early to all registered voters, not just those of us more than 65 or younger people who can come up with a valid excuse to vote absentee.
If this puts too much stress on the circuit clerks, set up polling places at other strategic locations, manned by qualified workers. And make it easier to vote by mail.
Our state is probably the most restrictive one in the nation this year in affording citizens the privilege of voting early.
Mississippi has a history of making it hard for some people to vote.
For me, it’s always been easy to register and to vote, and this year is no exception.
In 1956, you had to be 21 to vote in Mississippi, and right after my birthday, I registered to vote in Forrest County. At the time, prospective voters had to pass a “literacy” test and pay a $2 poll tax for the privilege of voting.
My literacy test consisted of being asked to copy a couple of lines from the Mississippi Constitution, showing that I knew how to write.
During the same time period in that county, Black school teachers and even college professors failed literacy tests that consisted of being required to interpret the Constitution or answer other subjective questions the clerk could fail them on.
All of that’s changed now. There’s no poll tax. People, black and white, can freely register at age 18, without having to take a literacy test.
But Mississippi still lags behind the rest of the country in allowing early voting, either in person or by mail, except for old folks like me and younger ones who can come up with one of several excuses for not being able to go to the polls where the state isn’t requiring masks during a pandemic.
Meanwhile, millions of voters across the country are setting records on early voting in an election that many consider crucial.
Charles Dunagin, who lives in Oxford, is a retired longtime Mississippi newspaperman.