McCOMB — When the subject arises of allowing any Mississippi voter to cast a ballot in advance of an election day for any reason, the objections appears to be that it would invite fraud or that it would unfairly help Democratic candidates.
Right now state law only allows advance voting, commonly known as an absentee ballot, for specific reasons, such as being out of town for an election. The idea behind no-excuse early voting is that by making it easier to cast a ballot, more people might become aware of the political process and, to be blunt, take more of an interest in an institution that is the bedrock of American greatness.
A writer with the R Street Institute, a right-leaning think tank in Washington, contends that Mississippi ought to join the majority of states that allow no-excuse early voting. He offers evidence that its fraud is minimal, and that both parties benefit from this system.
“Mississippi officials have been reticent to loosen restrictions on absentee voting,” wrote Marc Hyden, the R Street Institute’s director of state government affairs. “While it’s difficult to know their justifications, other anti-absentee voting states argue that an expanded system will give Democrats an electoral edge and that voting fraud will increase, but both of these allegations lack real merit.
“First, Republicans and Democrats alike enjoy casting absentee ballots, even though it often doesn’t turn out well for Democrats. Deep blue Oregon was the first state to enact the vote by mail model. Not long after, Oregonians elected a Republican U.S. senator.”
Hyden cited Oregon, which is one of five states that conduct all its elections by mail-in balloting, as proof that the system can keep fraud to a minimum. Bar codes allow the state to verify ballots, and technology allows a comparison of the voter’s signature on the ballot with other public documents like a driver’s license.
The conservative Heritage Foundation says that out of 50 million ballots cast by mail in Oregon, only 17 cases of fraud have been found.
Hyden’s most interesting point about the merits of no-excuse early voting came from Georgia, which appears to be in the middle of a transformation from a reliably red Republican state to a purple one, meaning a closer mix of GOP voters and blue Democrats.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in April that 395,000 voters had requested absentee ballots for Georgia’s June 9 primaries. That’s a record number, one no doubt set because of concerns about going to a polling place during the coronavirus pandemic.
What’s interesting is that 223,000 voters asked for a Republican ballot, while only 161,000 asked for a Democratic ballot. In this instance, early voting favors Republicans.
The Georgia information Wyden presented is a month old. A check last week of the Georgia secretary of state website said almost 1.5 million voters have asked for an absentee ballot. It did not update the number of ballots for each party. As of May 20, nearly three weeks before the primary, more than 400,000 ballots had been returned.
The secretary of state said the high number of absentee ballots will reduce the wait time at polling places, caused to some degree by having to clean machines after they’re used. Fewer in-person voters reduces the possibility of spreading the virus, whether to pollworkers or voters.
A greater focus on early voting makes sense during an epidemic. But it also makes sense when the world is normal. It makes participation easier. It may be too late for Mississippi to encourage advance voting for November, but there’s always another vote around the corner.
Other states have figured out how to use absentee ballots without being subjected to widespread fraud. Mississippi should consider this format for future elections.
Ryan is editor and publisher of The Enterprise-Journal in McComb.