Delbert Hosemann saw a need for change.
The Mississippi Secretary of State said the state’s election laws were long-overdue for a revision as he stopped by The Dispatch on Wednesday to talk about a sweeping overhaul.
The revisions — included in a nearly 400-page omnibus of recommendations from a 37-member committee — touch on everything from creating a new early-voting period to toughening reporting requirements for political action committee (PAC) fundraising or spending.
During his interview, Hosemann said the revisions are sorely needed to streamline and modernize Mississippi’s aging election code.
“It’s kind of like a leaky roof,” Hosemann said. “When something came up, they just added another code section. Consequently, it’s ineffective and difficult for a regular human to understand, if at all.”
One of the most notable revisions, Hosemann said, is the creation of an early voting period.
Under the proposal, Mississippians could begin voting in person 21 days before the an election up to noon on the Saturday before the election. Hosemann said voters will not be required to give a reason to vote early.
Thirty-three states currently offer pre-election day voting.
The recommendations also include a proposal for online voter registration.
Through the proposal, the Secretary of State’s office would work with the Department of Public Safety to create a website that would allow voters to register using their driver’s licenses or other DPS-issued photo IDs.
In addition to smoothing the registration process for new voters, Hosemann said the online method should offer savings for the state: in-person registration costs 83 cents per person, and he said online registration would cost about 3 cents per person.
The recommendations also introduce a requirement for PACs to report spending or the receiving of more than $200 within 48 hours of doing so. The measure was introduced in response to a wave of anonymous mailers that targeted candidates, Hosemann said. Currently, campaign spending reports don’t have to be filed until 10 days after the election.
“We believe people ought to have their First Amendment rights,” Hosemann said. “But they ought not to have the right to ambush.”
Hosemann said the proposals are, in part, a result of the success of the voter ID program. He said the changes would have been impossible five years ago.
“That allowed us to open the door to election reform,” he said. “We turned a historical page there. Once that was out of the way, I felt it was appropriate for us to go rewrite the whole thing. I opened the whole box and we threw the whole election code out and rewrote the whole thing. Clearly we never would have gotten here with voter ID. I can just tell you it would have been politically impossible.”
Hosemann said he’ll take a two-pronged approach to seeking the revisions’ passage. He said once chairmen for the House and Senate election committees are selected, the revisions will be introduced as a single large bill, and also with each proposal, as an individual pieces of legislation.
“We’ll try to put it to where if we were to lose one like campaign reform, if we were to lose that one, we wouldn’t lose the whole bill,” Hosemann said.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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