Secretary of State Presents Voter Reform Package to House Sub-Committee

The Circuit Clerks, the Election Commissioners, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of State have devoted thousands of hours to this proposed legislation. Our polls show more than 80-percent of Mississippians believe there was voter fraud in the last election, threatening the ability to govern and the very legitimacy of the Legislative and Executive branches. There is a major need for voter reform in Mississippi.

That is the purpose of House Bill 714. In this comprehensive reform package, the Secretary of State’s office not only hopes to return integrity to our elections, but also to ensure all eligible Mississippians are afforded the right to vote.

The No-Excuse Voting portion of the bill is endorsed by Circuit Clerks, Election Commissioners, and Boards of Supervisors statewide. No-excuse voting will allow eligible Mississippi voters to cast their ballots 15 days prior to an election. This vote will be final and will replace absentee ballots during that period. However, absentee ballots will still be allowed to be cast by servicemen, disabled war veterans, the elderly, and the disabled. Also included in the bill is curbside voting, which is yet another effort by the Secretary of State’s office to make casting a ballot much easier for our citizens. Curbside voting would provide for actual voting machines to be taken curbside, to eliminate the potential strain of walking inside a polling facility to our disabled voters.

A re-registration of Mississippi voters is also an important piece of this legislation. Bloated voter rolls are not only wasting valuable time and energies, but they also offer the opportunity for voter fraud and cost state taxpayers thousands of dollars in postal charges for mail-outs such as jury summons to citizens who are deceased or no longer live in the county. Over 30-percent of Mississippi’s counties have more people registered to vote than the number of those who are over the age of 18 and alive in the county. Under Section 19 of the bill, all voters in Mississippi would be required to re-register to save tax-payer dollars and ensure the integrity of the voting process. For convenience and cost purposes, voters would be considered re-registered if they vote in the upcoming Presidential election or any election in 2009.

Absentee ballots are also a major source of fraud in Mississippi elections. Many voters are taken advantage of by unscrupulous citizens, looking to cash-in on someone else’s absentee vote. This bill strives to change that. House Bill 714 works to ensure the absentee ballot voting process is fair and free of fraud. For example, one provision of the bill limits who provides absentee ballots to nursing home residents to the resident, the family, county or municipal election officials, or licensed nursing home administrators. This is an effort by the Secretary of State’s office to protect our elderly from having their votes stolen and to protect the voting process.

The bill also enacts voter authentication and voter authentication cards. Voters would be required to show acceptable forms of identification at the polls, identical to those required by the federal government when first registering to vote. If a voter does not have valid identification, he or she can receive an authentication card from the Secretary of State’s office prior to the election, free-of-charge. If the voter does not have proper identification at the polls, they will be issued an affidavit ballot and allowed to vote. The bill would also make voter intimidation at the polls a felony.

In a recent New York Times editorial, Democratic President Jimmy Carter and Republican Secretary of State James Baker said voters possessing identification at the polls was not a problem in itself—only 1.2-percent of voters lack identification. (Our polls in Mississippi show 97-percent of voters had ID at the last election.) President Carter and Secretary Baker supported Voter ID laws that “make it easy to vote but tough to cheat.”

Section 52 of the bill addresses election reporting. Under Section 52, the Secretary of State’s Office would be required to submit an annual report to the public, the Legislature, the Governor, and the Attorney General concerning voting in the elections. This portion of the bill would grant the Secretary of State limited power to subpoena records to produce this report.

House Bill 714 also provides for standardized, comprehensive training for Election Commissioners and Managers through an eight-hour online course to increase the number of poll workers and their knowledge of election laws. Training for circuit clerks is also provided for in the legislation.

Also included in the bill are the removal of ballot names of deceased candidates and the automatic removal of felons from office on the day of his conviction.

Today, we have a problem in Mississippi which threatens our system of democracy—voter fraud. The legislation comprehensively addresses the issues relating to voter fraud in order to strengthen our elections. All of the components of this bill are needed to fight this problem.

Mississippi will not move forward looking over its shoulder. This does not mean we need to lose our collective memory of where we have been. All Mississippians bring their personal lives and experiences to the table. The question is: Will we use those experiences to make Mississippi better, or will we fall back into the same divisions of the past?

The Office of the Secretary of State and a great majority of Mississippi’s citizens are asking for support and adoption of this elections reform.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann Press Release