Mississippi has finished last in yet another ranking of the states. This one, devised by several researchers, says the state’s election laws make it the most difficult place to vote in America.
There definitely are two sides to this particular coin. The rankings, created by professors at two American universities and one in China (where they know so much about democracy and voting), acknowledge that many of the factors affecting voter turnout are beyond the control of policymakers. Race, income, education, the candidates, voter indifference and the elections at the top of any particular ballot come to mind right away.
But the professors say their rankings, which measure the time and effort it takes to vote in each state, also appears to play a role — and elected officials in the states are responsible for making those rules.
The researchers gathered data on 33 types of election laws and ranked the states based on their ease of registering and voting. Oregon was first because it automatically registers every adult resident to vote and because the state mails ballots to every voter before each election.
Mississippi ranked last because it requires voters to show a photo ID at the polls. It also doesn’t allow either early voting or no-excuse absentee ballot voting.
The question is: Do state election laws affect voter participation? Could be. A story on The Washington Post’s website included a chart of the rankings along with voter turnout in the 2016 presidential election. There is a clear trend of lower turnout in states with more voting restrictions.
However, there are notable exceptions. Virginia ranked 49th but had a very high turnout in 2016. California ranked third, but turnout there was low. This is probably explained by the fact that Virginia’s electoral votes were up for grabs, while California’s were not. But it means that more voters were willing to push through any barriers created by state election laws.
As for Mississippi, there is no evidence that the state’s voter ID law has prevented minorities from voting. For the population as a whole, election participation still comes down to each individual’s interest in voting — or the lack of it. Regrettably, too many voters just don’t see elections as important or relevant.
Having said that, Republicans in charge of the Legislature have the power to get Mississippi off the bottom of this particular list.
For example, the state could pass an early-voting law. It could let some counties or cities experiment with taking ballots to the public — maybe rotating an early-voting polling place among several shopping centers on the Saturdays before an election — instead of mandating that people take the time to go to the courthouse.
Skeptics will counter that expanding the opportunity to vote would invite fraud. Voter ID is supposed to prevent that, which makes it sound like the skeptics would rather have fewer voters. Which is about as un-American as you can get.