James Clayton Terry: Absentee voters

February 9, 2011 10:43:00 AM



All my life I have seen and heard of politicians pulling off some of the dirtiest dealings to suppress po'' folks voting strength: poll-taxes, literacy tests, crazy gerrymandering at re-districting, reducing the size of the legislature and the like. Now comes this mad effort to attack absentee voting. Hum, strange how I never heard certain elected officials complain about these troopers out and about helping voters when they thought they might be the beneficiary. 


The fact is, these people who span across the county facilitating absentee voting ought to be commended, not assailed. Rather, we should be proud of these guys and gals; they are all unsung heroes doing a thankless civic duty, going out of their way, braving inclement weather, spending their own money on gas and stamps, all in order to help the elderly and the infirm exercise their franchise, otherwise they might not ever be able to vote at all. Sad to say, but some of our elderly live isolated and alone, having been all but abandoned by the community. 


As far as investigations by the state authority, investigate what? It is perfectly legal for one person, as long as he or she doesn''t coerce, or forge signatures to assist the elderly in voting-- Oh, neither can one remain in the same room with a voter while they are actually voting. Doing this a number of years the words gets around the community that people are helping folks vote absentee, a clientele of sorts begin to grow, and that''s where the big numbers come in. But that is just the problem isn''t it? The conservatives, who never saw an absentee vote they ever liked, are concerned about the numbers, Democrat numbers. Being concerned they scramble to change the rules or criminalize standard practices and procedures. And what is there that is intrinsically wrong about one person witnessing more than one signing of a legal document? Notary publics do it for a living all day! Will you, therefore, foster legislation to limit their ability to do their job, earn money, and perform a public service? 


Some time ago they crafted a rule that said an absentee voter had to sign his or her name all the way across the flap of the absentee ballot envelope to make it count. In recent years they stopped automatically sending out the ballots at primary run-off making the process of voting absentee more cumbersome, now they want to reduce the number of ballots a person can witness for those who can''t help themselves. (Mississippi has the largest body of folk who can''t read at all.) They have put up every road block imaginable to suppress this troubling body of votes including alarming the public with salient images of those who sign up "dead people" to vote.  


The existence of such people practicing a thing so heinous is about as elusive as Ronald Reagan''s much-heralded bogeywoman of the 1980''s: the mythological welfare queen with ten kids, obese as the Michelin man, foul-mouthed, chain-smoking Newpo''ts, sporting an ill-fitting blonde wig, who buys 10 push-carts brimming over with groceries, pays for it all with food stamps, and then drives away in a brand new Cadillac. I''ve never seen her, have you? What legislators ought to do is to make voting easier, not more difficult. 


Need we be reminded of the blood that was shed in order that the disenfranchised might be, at last, franchised? Some of us have dedicated our every energy that some of those very people who put their lives on the line in some of Mississippi''s ugliest years are able to do what they suffered to do; that is, to vote. Reducing the number of absentee ballots a person may witness means that less of the elderly and the infirm will be voting at all and represents a terrible blunder in our public policy. And isn''t it strange that the only people complaining about po'' folk voting absentee are those who hale themselves as the arbiters of "less government"? 


James Clayton Terry