Leave it to Tate Reeves to draw the wrong conclusion from the likely outcome in this year’s presidential race.
The Mississippi governor, with Donald Trump’s future in the White House hanging by a steadily thinning thread, decided last week to second the discredited notion that there is something illegitimate or corrupt about early voting.
Reeves warned that as long as he’s governor, forget about making it easier to vote prior to Election Day, whether by mail or in person.
“ ... based on what I see in other states today (Thursday), I will also do everything in my power to make sure universal mail-in voting and no-excuse early voting are not allowed in MS — not while I’m governor!” he said on Twitter. “Too much chaos. Only way it’d happen is if many GOP legislators override a veto!”
Reeves might be careful about laying down the gauntlet like that. The Republican majorities in the Legislature have already shown they are willing to stand up to him when it comes to who has the authority to spend the state’s money. Feeling the pressure from the state’s business, athletic and religious communities, they also forced the governor’s hand to go along with changing the state flag, something that Reeves showed no enthusiasm for during the 2019 gubernatorial race. It’s less likely that they will buck him on early voting, but they might once they realize that had Trump embraced it — rather than encouraging his base to shun it as much as they do masks — he might be getting ready for a second term rather than sulking in the White House.
Americans like the convenience of early voting. The trend lines were already there before the pandemic, but COVID-19 accelerated them. Only one of the two major party candidates, Democrat Joe Biden, seemed to understand this preference for ease — and this year, safety. As a result, in all but one contested state, Biden was the beneficiary of the majority of the early voting, in some states by overwhelming margins.
Trump bet instead on being able to generate a huge Election Day turnout — one galvanized by his incessant rallies in the final days of the campaign, which, though medically irresponsible, drew large and enthusiastic crowds. It almost worked, but as the saying goes, “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”
It looks like Trump is going to lose by less than 2 percentage points in a handful of states that he won four years ago — Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona. The only one of those he might still hold is Arizona, which appears to be the lone outlier of the tightly contested states where absentee ballots are tilted more in favor of Trump than Biden.
If Trump had been encouraging early voting rather than trying to set it up as the scapegoat for an election he knew he might lose, it very well could have been enough to flip all of these states in the other direction.
So, even while Trump and his diminishing number of allies press forward with the longshot hope of getting the courts to overturn the election results in several of these states, smarter politicians should be paying attention to what just occurred and adapt accordingly.
More than 100 million Americans voted prior to Election Day this year, doubling what had been the record set just four years ago. Even in Mississippi, which made little concession to the pandemic and was the only state in the nation without some form of no-excuse early voting in 2020, a record number of voters asked for absentee ballots. This is not a fluke.
If there is “chaos,” as Reeves describes the drawn-out counting of absentee ballots, that can also be avoided with some modest tweaking of election laws. In every state that is taking days to determine which candidate received the majority of the votes, it is because Republican-led legislatures refused to give their counties permission to start counting absentee ballots until Election Day itself. In those counties allowed to get a head start, they were able to release most of the early voting totals either before or at the same time as their Election Day totals. Not only did that produce more timely results, but it avoided the accusation that the outcome was “rigged,” as Trump falsely claimed both before the election and afterward.
Although they caught a case of Trump-fearing laryngitis this year, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn have previously been supporters of no-excuse early voting. Hosemann’s successor as secretary of state, Michael Watson, unsuccessfully proposed this year allowing in-person early voting whenever there’s a pandemic or natural disaster. He might be open to allowing it regardless of whether there’s a state of emergency.
Rather than resisting what is an obvious and bipartisan national trend, Mississippi Republicans should figure out how to implement early voting effectively and fairly. If Reeves is stuck in his Trumpian delusion, bypass him.