Hosemann’s heart is in the right place

Published 12:00 pm Tuesday, January 26, 2016

By Charlie Mitchell

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann did not receive the recognition due for his masterful management in seeking passage, heading off federal resistance and in implementation of Mississippi’s voter ID law.

While many states suffered setback after setback and incurred major expenses from a hostile U.S. Department of Justice, Hosemann dealt deftly with the matter the old-fashioned way. First, he learned from the “mistakes” other states made when trying to require voters to show identification before they cast ballots. Second, he pestered the federal civil rights lawyers to discern every possible objection to such a law and made sure Mississippi addressed each and every one ahead of time. Third, he rolled out a broad public information plan and campaign to assure no one would be “chilled” from casting a ballot due to the new requirement.

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The result? Mississippi has voter ID, and none of the predicted horrors of mass or even minor disenfranchisement occurred.

Smooth as silk.

The big question, though, is whether requiring ID has reduced fraud at polling places. And the answer, though Hosemann might disagree, is, “probably not,” or at least there’s no evidence that it has.

Cheaters find a way.

Now Secretary “by the book” Hosemann is back with a much longer list. Last week he presented to the Legislature and outlined to the press a comprehensive, praiseworthy streamlining and makeover of Mississippi election laws and procedures.

There is absolutely no doubt his heart is in the right place. There is absolutely no doubt that though he is an (evil) Republican, he embodies a burning desire for completely transparent, completely accurate elections that truly reflect the will of the people.

The Legislature should respond favorably.

The package:

• Creates online registration.

Though some states allow online voting, Hosemann’s plan doesn’t go quite that far. But given that ID is required at polling places, there should be no objection to allowing online registration. It makes sense.

• Allow early voting — up to 21 days before election days.

Early voting already happens under the guise of “absentee voting” in Mississippi. Under today’s law, people are required to give a reason. Most any reason would do … sick or disabled, out-of-town, on vacation, traveling for work … anything. If passed, “no reason” would become an acceptable reason.

• Punish last-minute ambush campaign tactics.

This is a tough one, as it involves the First Amendment. The idea is to at least make people think twice about last-minute lies about opponents or causes on social media or elsewhere. The proposed law is likely powerless to restrict people outside campaign organizations from starting a rumor that Candidate Bob uses kittens for footballs, but Hosemann’s proposal would at least encourage candidates and their staffs to avoid the low road.

• Stop crossover voting in runoffs.

Existing law says a person who votes in a Republican primary can’t vote in a Democratic runoff (and vice versa) during the same election cycle. Apparently not enough people are aware of this and Hosemann proposes a tightening up. It’s just not cricket to get your guy nominated and then cross over to try to make sure he (or she) has the weakest possible general election opponent.

There are several other changes — finance disclosures, moving presidential primaries to March 1 to join other Southern states — and a few tweaks.

Each and every one is designed to add integrity to the process.

In high school, elections were simple. Sue for student body president. Bob for most handsome. Everybody votes once and the person with the most votes wins.

Public elections have grown vastly more complicated. Filing deadlines, reporting requirements, enrolling voters, primaries, runoffs, tallying affidavit and absentee ballots.

Couple that with the fact that Sue could be in supervisor District 2, school board District 4, House District 43 and on and on and Bob could live across the street and vote at the same place yet be in supervisor District 5, school board District 2 and House District 44.

It gets messy in a hurry and that — plus a distaste for politics overall — causes people to opt out.

What Hosemann and other solid officials know is that for the state to operate as it should, a clean and clear set of rules and procedures is essential. Applaud him for that.

And the cheaters? Hosemann has a plan for them, too. His proposals streamline and clarify definitions of electoral crime: Up to one year for misdemeanors and two years for felonies.

Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at cmitchell43@yahoo.com.