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Record voter turnout renews calls for expanding voting options
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Waiting to Vote at Word of Life Church, Flowood, Nov. 3, 2020
Desare C. Frazier

There’s a renewed interest in expanding voting options in Mississippi, after residents stood in long lines last week to cast their ballots.

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Republican State Representative Kent McCarty of Hattiesburg says it’s time to move beyond tradition and provide voters in Mississippi with more options. He says when he took office last year his colleagues told him on some issues that’s just the way they’ve always done it.

“That is not an acceptable answer to me for any question. So I don’t think there’s been a lot of energy to look at different options. We saw on Tuesday, there’s real consequences to not looking to the future and not updating the system we have right now,” says McCarty.

More than one million Mississippians voted last week in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, a record setting number. Some people report waiting in lines for two hours or more. Former legislator Jarvis Dortch, who resigned his seat this year, is now with the American Civil Liberties Union. Dortch says in 2016 and 2017, the House passed legislation to expand voting. Records show the bills died in the Senate.

“We passed early voting, we passed online voter registration, we passed a package of reforms that were submitted and championed by then Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who is now Lt. Governor. It makes no sense right now for us to not pass something that makes it easier for people to access the polls,” said Dortch.

Governor Tate Reeves was Lt. Governor during that period. Reeves says he’ll do everything in his power to ensure universal mail-in voting and no-excuse early voting are not allowed in Mississippi.

“The more people that vote the better. I just believe in the integrity of election day being an institution,” said Reeves.

Jarvis Dortch is hopeful the legislature will take up the issue in 2021 because there will be municipal elections in the Spring.