Scott Colom: Mississippi should adopt early voting

November 9, 2011 11:42:00 AM

Scott Colom - [email protected]


This Tuesday I witnessed the best evidence for early voting. My day started with a hearing on a custody case. As any lawyer who has practiced family law will tell you, no client wants to win more than a parent in a custody dispute. This client, in particular, was putting a lot of hope in the outcome, so I had been obsessively preparing, wanting to make sure I didn't let her down.  


Yet, while preparing for this, I also had to help coordinate a presentation for my Leadership Lowndes Class. The LINK's annual training course teaches young professionals about Lowndes County. As a part of the course a few members have to create a presentation about what we learned the previous month. Tuesday, my group had to put the final touches on our presentation, and I kept thinking over what we need to do.  


Then, there was my YMCA team's flag football game at 6 p.m. Our undefeated season was on the line, and we were playing a tough opponent. The team is full of energetic kids but at 6 and 7 it takes a lot of effort to keep them focused. To make matters worse, after the game (We lost.), I had to write this column. Yikes.  


Consequently, even for an obsessed political junkie like me, voting was almost an afterthought this Tuesday. Imagine if I had kids or was married or had a family member in the hospital or had an unusual emergency. Voting would been further down my list of priorities.   


Well, many voters don't have to imagine this. It's a reality. They have jobs and kids and daily emergencies. This limits the time during the day they are available to vote and also means voting may slip their mind, notwithstanding their democratic ideals and patriotism.  


Several states have recognized this dilemma and adopted early voting to counteract it. This allows voting four to 50 days before an election, no questions asked, which gives voters more opportunity to vote and reduces the pressure of having only one day. Surrounding Southern states Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Florida all allow some form of no-excuse early voting. 


Mississippi, in comparison, only allows early voting when a voter offers an excuses for his or her inability to vote on election day, which is referred to as absentee balloting. These permissible excuses are spelled out by statute and include reasons such as being out of town or being permanently disabled. Without a permissible excuse, Mississippians have to vote on election day.  


As with all proposals for change, early voting has its critics. A few claim it's too costly, although I've yet to hear a plausible explanation of how or why. Others claim it will encourage fraud, but, as reported before this column goes to print, voters have voted to amend the state Constitution to require a government-issued identification be shown at the poll. As a result, if early voters are required to show government identification, the chances of fraud are slim to none.  


People have also criticized early voting on partisan grounds, claiming its a ploy to help Democrats, but, as noted by political columnist Sid Salter, Republicans have had no problem winning elections in Southern states that adopted early voting; not that political disadvantage is a justifiable reason to block early voting. 


These and other criticisms ignore the reality of life. Work and children and responsibility and YMCA flag football don't care that it's election day. Therefore, people may fail to vote, not out of laziness, apathy or unconcern, but simply because they had other priorities, priorities to which voting had to take a backseat.  


I say this fully recognizing the gift our forefathers granted us with the right to vote, and the sacrifices made by service-members throughout our history to protect that right. This is why I love to vote and, despite it all, I made time to vote on Tuesday. But, if voting is so important, if it's such a gift, if it's worth fighting and dying for, I question why we are only given one day to do it.  


Scott Colom is a local attorney. His e-mail address is [email protected] 


Scott Colom is a local attorney.