Mississippi's "Reform" Failure

Hailing from Texas, I've seen my fellow southerners come up with some great ideas—like adding creamy gravy to chicken-fried steak, for instance. But Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann's election "reform" proposal has me scratching my head...

February 26, 2008

Hailing from Texas, I've seen my fellow southerners come up with some great ideas—like adding creamy gravy to chicken-fried steak, for instance. But now comes Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann with an election "reform" proposal that has me scratching my head. The Secretary of State's plan includes a lot of things, but the provision that should inspire bipartisan outrage is the section requiring all persons who registered prior October 1, 2008 to reregister. The Secretary is concerned that the voter rolls are bloated and apparently thinks starting from scratch is the way to fix the problem. Talk about the medicine being worse than the disease.

We should strive for accurate rolls. On this, no one disagrees. When voter rolls are accurate, turn-out numbers are more precise, and election misconduct is easier to detect. Problems arise, however, when the quest for accurate rolls eclipses the voter's actual rights. When eligible voters are removed from the rolls, they're silenced unless they're able to correct the problem in time to qualify for the next election. Unfortunately, many voters will not know or understand they have to reregister before it is too late.

The irony is that there is no need for extreme proposals like Secretary Hosemann's. Federal law sets forth a common-sensical approach that strikes a balance between voters' rights and accurate voter rolls. Under the National Voter Registration Act, sometimes referred to as the "NVRA" or "Motor Voter Act," if it appears from information provided by the Postal Service that a registrant should no longer be on the rolls, the officials are supposed to send a forwardable notice asking for a confirmation of the registrant's address. If that registrant does not respond, the registrant remains on the rolls for two federal elections. If the registrant shows up to vote in the interim, she or he can update the necessary information. Only registrants who fail to respond to the address confirmation notice AND miss two federal elections can be removed from the voter rolls.

Under Hosemann's proposal, registrants who vote in any election conducted between November 3, 2008 and December 31, 2009 and meet certain other conditions will be deemed reregistered. Everyone else who registered prior to October 1, 2008 will have to reregister in order to be able to vote in any election after December 31, 2009. The Secretary's proposal will disenfranchise too many voters in the name of minimizing registration roll bloat. The NVRA method is simple and inexpensive. Secretary Hosemann should be ensuring compliance with the NVRA, not putting forth a new proposal that, by design, jeopardizes the voting rights of Mississippians.

Upate, 2/27

Thanks to an amendment offered by Senator David Blount, D-Jackson, the Mississippi Senate passed a revised version of the bill which did not include the provisions requiring all voters to reregister!