Hosemann goes to Saddam’s perch, advises soldiers to vote

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 5, 2008

He said little about it, but it must have been quite an experience.

Last week, Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann — that guy with the funny name who just got his briefs dissed by the state Supreme Court — climbed the stairs and stood on the highest balcony at one of Saddam Hussein’s 99 palaces.

There, with the top elections officials of four other states, Hosemann was filmed for an Armed Services Network segment encouraging soldiers to vote.

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“It really was a poignant moment,” Hosemann said by telephone a few hours later. “…to think about all that led to me being there and able to talk to Americans about the rights we have and remembering …”

Cutting himself off, he returned to the nuts and bolts of how Mississippi has been the most innovative state in coming up with ways for the 160,000 troops in Iraq and the hundreds of thousands of others elsewhere around the globe to participate in the Nov. 4 election.

Under the heading “flamboyant Mississippi politicians,” lots of names can be found. Finch, Bilbo, Barnett…

Under the heading “bookish,” one would find “Delbert.”

Before his election last year, Hosemann was best known as a top state specialist in (yawn) corporate and tax law. He had run for Congress before, but he was mostly known in legal circles for being low-key — an absolute straight-shooter, a man without an agenda, a stickler for finding out what the rules were and following them. His main mission in seeking the job of departing Secretary of State Eric Clark, he said, was bringing clarity to the processes of government.

That’s what made it so weird for him to be Gov. Haley Barbour’s point man in arguing last month that the special U.S. Senate election between Roger Wicker and Ronnie Musgrove should be at the very end of official ballots instead of where it wound up — right below the presidential contest and the names of Thad Cochran and Erik Fleming, who are seeking the state’s other U.S. Senate seat.

‘What has moved Mississippi up a notch in electoral prestige is being first to put in place mechanisms to accept e-mailed ballots from people in the armed services.’

Hosemann is a Republican and is a conservative, but has never really shown any inclination toward partisan antics. He seemed uncomfortable working angles of the law.

Anyway, what has moved Mississippi up a notch in electoral prestige is being first to put in place mechanisms to accept e-mailed ballots from people in the armed services.

The Secretary of State’s Office is the clearinghouse. A soldier can log onto the Internet, navigate to the site, request a ballot from his or her home precinct, print it out, mark every race from president to constable, scan the ballot back in and transmit it back to Jackson. There, it is downloaded and delivered to the soldier’s home county to be tallied on Election Day along with all other absentee ballots.

It can be done in as little as 30 minutes. And it beats the mail, Hosemann said, which can require more than a week to receive a ballot request from a solider, more than a week to get the ballot delivered to the soldier and more than a week to be mailed back.

The big compromise is that a voter’s choices are known to at least one election official — the one who accepts and prints a completed ballot for sealing and delivery to the precinct box where the soldier is listed as a registered voter.

“We talked about this for a long time,” Hosemann said. “And to a person they had no trepidation about that.”

Of course, it might be seen as partisan — given Republican nominee John McCain’s strong military legacy  — that a Republican secretary of state would be so interested in having the highest-ever military participation in an election.

Some will make that claim despite polls showing members of the armed services supporting Democratic nominee Barack Obama at about the same ratio as the general population.

But for Hosemann, there’s no doubt it was a non-partisan trip to Iraq and Afghanistan — sponsored by the Department of Defense and at no expense to state government.

As a candidate, Hosemann would become energized when talking about the importance of elections being open with as little hassle as possible to every qualified elector — and how ferreting out cheating and double-dealing was essential. One-person, one-vote is a very simple proposition. It’s clear Hosemann believes it’s bedrock to the operational success of the nation, too. After all, if we can’t get voting right there’s little chance more complex challenges can be met in straightforward ways.

The palace where Hosemann was taped is Al Faw, just outside Baghdad. It has 62 rooms covering a half-million square feet.

 It was a playground for Uday and Qusay more than for Saddam himself.

Still, it must have been quite an experience for Hosemann — who is indeed “bookish,” but has never been shy about his enthusiasm for democracy.