Elections cheats don’t care what Legislature does

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 7, 2009

Tupelo has 35,000 people. In this year’s Democratic municipal primary, 33 absentee ballots were tallied. That was 2 percent of the votes cast.

Macon has 2,330 people. In this year’s primary there, 541 absentee ballots were tallied. That was 40 percent of the votes cast.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, not a guy to go off half-cocked, said there could be a legitimate explanation of the difference. Across the spectrum of Mississippi municipalities that have been holding elections this year, most towns, incluiing Vicksburg and Tupelo, had modest, predictable levels of absentee voting. Others, such as Macon, had inexplicably high proportions of people who did not vote as a polling place in comparison to those who did.

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“The cause of the disparity could be the result of a lack of voter information, lack of motivation of the voter by the candidates themselves or voter irregularities,” Hosemann said

Ah, “irregularities.” What a polite word. Hosemann is not going to say “fraud” unless he can prove “fraud.”  And maybe he has a smarter approach, anyway.

In Mississippi, voting in advance of election day has become more and more casual. This state doesn’t formally have what other states call “early voting,” but any person who says he or she will not be able to cast a ballot in person on the day designated for voting is allowed to do so.

Usually, this is done by going to the city clerk’s office in municipal elections or the county clerk’s office in county, state or federal elections.


But Mississippi law also allows voting by mail.

Voting by mail, by its very nature, is more open to cheating.

The legal stipulations are that a voter otherwise qualified to vote in person on election day may receive a ballot by mail and return it by mail if the voter is:

• Temporarily residing outside the county, such as a construction worker or member of the military, or;

• Temporarily or permanently disabled, such as residing in a nursing home, or;

• Age 65 or older, or;

• The parent, spouse or dependent of  someone who is temporarily or permanently disabled who is hospitalized outside of their county of residence or more than 50 miles outside of their home on election day.

It’s not known how many of Macon’s absentee voters received and returned ballots by mail.

It is known that Macon and the county where it is located, Noxubee, are notorious. U.S. Justice Department observers consistently camp out there during elections. Based on the federal monitors’ reports, Ike Brown, the county’s self-proclaimed political boss and an on-again, off-again member of the Mississippi Democratic Executive Committee, was found guilty a couple of years ago of disenfranchising voters based on their race — in this case white voters — so anything coming out of that county is still suspect.

Hosemann has also been on the case of elections officials in Wilkinson County who treated ballots and ballot boxes with about the same detachment that an aromatic sack of fries might be expected to get on the drive home from McDonald’s.

Earlier this year the state Senate was within a whisker of joining the House in sending to Gov. Haley Barbour legislation that would add both a voter ID component to elections law, which Republicans insist is necessary to assure integrity, and an early-voting provision, which Democrats insist would bring Mississippi into alignment with other states and open the door to more voter participation.

It didn’t happen, so the law is unchanged.

All through the voter ID discussion it has been pointed out that anyone is sadly mistaken to think simply making folks show a picture of themselves before getting their hands on a ballot will zap all fraud in its tracks. Cheaters don’t skirt the law or study it for loopholes. They ignore it.

As the primary numbers indicate, this state — or at least some jurisdictions in this state — have “irregularities” that no new statute is going to fix.

All the laws in the world can’t make an honest person out of a cheater. Only the people of a community can stop cheaters, and only by not letting cheaters be in charge.

Hosemann is not calling names, hollering for indictments. That’s not his style.

Perhaps he’s merely trying to raise public awareness of the “irregularities.”

Maybe he thinks if enough people realize the scope of the “irregularities” under existing law, they’ll realize legislators can’t make right what locals choose to let stay wrong.