The November presidential race is rapidly descending upon us, which is normally the biggest news story of the year, but I don’t have that feel of a big election year yet.
The Democratic field, which looked for a minute like it was going to be crowded through the convention, quickly dissipated in February after U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., endorsed Joe Biden, handing the former vice president the black vote that is so key to winning his party’s nomination.
And then the coronavirus struck, shutting down the nation and becoming THE topic of conversation. Quarantine strategies for restricting large crowds have shut down traditional rallies, and the fallback from the 2016 presidential campaign disaster on social media has restricted how much back and forth I’ve seen on those libel-filled, fact-deficient, rabble-rousing platforms (a good thing). I don’t watch much TV at all, especially now that sports aren’t on, and so I’m thankfully immune from whatever ads or pontifications are held there.
But eventually the election is going to emerge in the months leading up to Nov. 3, and a big topic, which has not come up in previous races, is becoming evident: mail-in voting.
Because people are scared to get out for fear of contracting the virus, some have advocated for voting by mail. But Democrats seem to want it a little too much, and President Trump seems to oppose it a little too much. Something’s up for sure, although none of us know what it might be.
That’s kind of the point, though: Mail-in voting just raises too many questions and possibilities for fraud to make it worthwhile.
Sending ballots to every registered voter in the county is a recipe for disaster. How do election officials verify the person who received the ballot is the one who sends it back in?
Absentee ballot fraud is already prevalent in Mississippi. I’ve covered trials (elsewhere in Mississippi) where it was clearly proven that candidates engaged in vote-buying schemes where they picked up indigent voters in the weeks before an election, paid them money and drove them to the courthouse to vote absentee, which is allowed in Mississippi if you’re disabled, elderly or meet certain other qualifications.
The absentee ballots are also a pain to process because there are a lot of things that have to be done correctly — liking signing the ballot across the seal — or the vote can be tossed out, even if it’s otherwise valid.
Why introduce so many headaches like that by suddenly implementing mail-in ballots without much deliberation and in the biggest election (by turnout) of all?
And more than anything else, as people on both sides increasingly view their fellow Americans with different political views as the enemy, which is unfathomable to me, there needs to be confidence that election results are legitimate. Mail-in voting simply can’t provide that.
There is, though, a much more efficient and less fraud-prone method: early voting. Let all voters come to a central location — the courthouse makes sense in just about every Mississippi county — and cast ballots on electronic voting machines.
Where I grew up in Tennessee this was the law. When I was in college I was still registered to vote in my home county. At one point when I was home in the weeks before an election, I drove into the county seat and cast a ballot. It was easy. I even saw my first-grade teacher, who was working the polls, and had a nice chat.
Despite the benefits of that system, Mississippi has repeatedly refused to consider it. I’ve always suspected it’s because a lot of those already in elected office benefit from absentee ballot fraud and don’t want to eliminate that edge.
Maybe this is the year, though. The Legislature could easily make that happen in time for the Nov. 3 election; the equipment and spaces are already there. And it would space out the voting to lessen large gatherings on Election Day. Most importantly, it would provide a viable alternative to mail-in ballots that presents less problems — and less allegations of partisan manipulation.
Charlie Smith is editor and publisher of The C-P. Reach him at (601) 736-2611.