Mississippi lawmakers this year rejected a proposal to stop making liars of their fellow citizens, at least when it comes to early voting. Current state law allows any registered voter who is disabled or at least 65 years old to cast an absentee ballot before election day. Anyone else needs an excuse, such as being out of town on election day, to vote early by absentee. A bipartisan study group led by Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann met in 2015 and recommended several election law revisions for legislators to consider this year. The group unanimously backed the concept of allowing voters to cast ballots in circuit clerks’ offices starting 21 days before any election, without having to give a reason. During a news conference at the beginning of the legislative session in January, Hosemann said about 9,000 people cast absentee ballots in Mississippi statewide elections. He said about one-third request mail-in ballots, while two-thirds go to a circuit clerk’s office to vote absentee. Almost half of the people going to clerks’ offices say they’re planning to be out of the county on election day.
“Well, we know they’re not going to be out of the county, not all of them,” Hosemann said. “So, what we were doing is asking our voters, our electorate, to lie when they came to cast their ballot.”
House Bill 796 would have allowed no-excuses early voting at circuit clerks’ offices starting 14 days before each election. The bill passed the House on a bipartisan vote of 117-2, but it died in the Senate Elections Committee.
Republican Sally Doty of Brookhaven, who’s in her first year as chairwoman of the Senate committee, said the bill faltered because circuit clerks asked how early voting would affect their office operations. Circuit clerks are fee-paid, and it was unclear whether they would need to hire extra workers before elections, and where the money would come from if they did.