Editorial Roundup – 01/27/2016

Eaton a victim of ‘home cooking’

It was clear from the start that the Republicans in the state House of Representatives were going to figure out a way to overturn an election in east Mississippi that kept them one vote shy of a supermajority.

House Speaker Philip Gunn stacked the deck hearing the appeal of Republican challenger Mark Tullos by putting four Republicans and only one Democrat on the five-member panel.

And those four voted on a technicality to recommend that the full House unseat longtime Democratic Rep. Bo Eaton and put Tullos in his place. To justify that decision, the Republicans on the panel said that five affidavit votes for Eaton should be disqualified because the voters had not notified election officials in advance that they had moved to another address in the House district.

In a close election such as this, which ended in a tie and had to be resolved by the drawing of straws, there are always going to be some imperfect votes. The question is whether the imperfections are a result of fraud or innocent error.

In this case, it was clearly the latter. There are voters all over this state who move and forget to change their address on the voting records. They either go to the old precinct where they were registered and illegally keep on voting there, or they go to their proper new precinct, find out their oversight and get it corrected for the next election. This was not a big deal, as even the Secretary of State’s Office told election officials in Smith County, where the five votes were cast, to count them.

The House’s decision to throw out those five votes and give the election to Tullos was nothing more than a political maneuver designed to give Republicans the three-fifths majority they need to enact tax changes without any Democratic support.

Interestingly, earlier this week, Senate Republicans did just the opposite. They could have overturned a disputed election there on more serious grounds than the House challenge, but they ignored those claims because they already had a supermajority and the Republican incumbent making the challenge, Melanie Sojourner, had made enemies with most of the members from her own party.

Unfortunately, Mississippi law allows this kind of pick-and-choose interpretation of election law. Under the constitution, the Legislature has the sole authority over whom it seats and to decide election contests involving its members. Thus, it can be completely arbitrary over how much of election law it applies and how much it ignores. It can put the greatest emphasis on voter intent or it can put it on following every letter of the law.

It really shouldn’t be this way.

An independent body, with no stake in the outcome, should ultimately decide election challenges. That’s how most other local and state election disputes are resolved. It’s only in the Legislature where home cooking is allowed.

Ask another ‘chef’
Although Rep. Bo Eaton has no recourse under Mississippi law to challenge an unfair decision to unseat him by his Republican colleagues, there is apparently something that still could be done.

The Democrat says the five disqualified voters could file a federal lawsuit, claiming their constitutional right to equal protection had been violated.

The Democratic Party should have attorneys with expertise in constitutional law look at it and see if Eaton is correct. If he is, it should pursue the case. If the party picked up the legal costs, it shouldn’t be too hard to get some or all of those five voters on board.

Tim Kalich
Editor and Publisher
Greenwood Commonwealth

Hosemann’s ideas fine but incomplete

Delbert Hosemann is back at it, trying to convince the Mississippi Legislature that there is still much work to be done to bring Mississippi’s voting procedures into the 21st century while also taking steps to reduce the potential for fraud or dirty tricks.

The secretary of state, now beginning his third term, did an admirable job implementing voter ID, an oversold and overemotional issue that distracted this state from addressing where its biggest problem with voter fraud lies — absentee ballots.

Hosemann’s newest proposals don’t tackle absentee-ballot fraud head-on either, although his pitch for allowing voters to cast their ballots in person at the courthouse for up to 21 days before Election Day should reduce the number of absentee ballots cast overall. Still, if you are a candidate inclined to cheat, you’re going to use mail-in absentee ballots anyway, since the fraud becomes much harder to catch that way.

Even with that said, though, allowing no-excuse early voting is a good idea that should, if nothing else, increase voter turnout. It certainly eliminates one of the main excuses of people who don’t get to the polls.

Among Hosemann’s other worthy ideas are:
nAllowing voters to register or update their existing registrations online. Twenty-nine other states and the District of Columbia already do this. By comparing the online registration with the information provided by the same individuals when they received a driver’s license or other state-issued identification card, registrars are able to catch any fictitious or questionable attempts to register. Not only is online registration convenient, but it’s also cost-effective. One study showed the cost to register a voter was 3 cents online versus 83 cents via the traditional paper method.

nRequiring more transparency by candidates and their supporters. One Hosemann proposal would require candidates to itemize their election-related credit-card payments, so as to make it harder to hide the nature of some campaign expenditures. Another would require quicker filing of receipts and expenditures by political committees.

nSimplifying while also strengthening the laws against election-related crimes, in the hope that more of them will be prosecuted. The attorney general, district attorneys and county prosecutors historically have been lax about pursuing voter-fraud charges, sometimes blaming the lack of clarity in the existing statutes.

A glaring omission in what is otherwise a good package of proposals is Hosemann’s silence on a disturbing trend in this state to eliminate the paper trail on voting. More than three-fourths of the 77 counties in Mississippi with touch-screen voting machines have disconnected their external printers, by which voters could previously verify on paper that their vote has been accurately recorded.

The external printers are a critical safeguard against potential hacking into the machines or their malfunctioning. Removing the printers is an invitation to vote-stealing schemes or vote-disappearing disasters.

Not only should Mississippi require that the printers be reinstalled, but it should mandate regular random audits of the voting systems, as more than half of the states in the country do, to be certain that votes are being accurately and reliably recorded. Such an audit is impossible without a voter-verified paper component.

It may seem archaic in an age of electronic banking, distance learning and even online voter registration, but no one has yet invented a foolproof, completely paperless system of voting.

‘Free’ to whom?

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton says she doesn’t just want to keep Obamacare alive, she wants to make the sweeping health-care law even more generous.

Clinton says if elected, she will push for an amendment to require insurance companies to give their members three free sick visits to the doctor a year that would not count toward the insureds’ annual deductible.

There is no such thing as “free” visits. Someone is going to pay for them, and it’s not going to be the insurance companies.

Mandates such as this only encourage people to overuse their coverage and make unnecessary visits to health-care providers. The cost of this ultimately gets passed on in higher premiums for everyone else. That’s how the “free market” works, something Democrats such as Clinton have a hard time understanding.

Tim Kalich
Editor and Publisher
Greenwood Commonwealth

Rubio maybe right touch

The New York Times has an interesting analysis of who will win the Republican presidential nomination that measures three categories: endorsements from fellow politicians, fundraising and polling.

The national newspaper says those are the best indicators from previous years about who will emerge.

Current polls show Donald Trump at the top followed by Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. That follows the general consensus that those three are the front-runners.

Overall, the Times gives Trump a 45 percent chance of winning, Rubio 29 percent, Cruz 12 percent and Jeb Bush 11 percent.

But there’s telling information in the other two categories: Bush, the ultimate establishment candidate, remains first in money and national endorsements among party leaders, which the Times calls the “invisible primary.”

So far Bush’s campaign has not generated much excitement. His performance at debates has been underwhelming, and Americans seem to have grown lukewarm to the idea of more Bushs in office after the presidencies of his father and brother.

But there’s no doubt that GOP power brokers would prefer Bush to win versus the other candidates, who figure to buck convention and be harder to control. Don’t discount their influence, even as the populists have taken the lead.

Even if Jeb is too far behind to make a move, the establishment could coalesce around Rubio, a former Jeb Bush protégé in Florida. He’s more moderate than Trump or Cruz and seems to have a better vision for leading the Republican Party into the future, where the country is more diverse, than those two reactionaries.

We can imagine this scenario playing out: Jeb Bush, still doing poorly in the polls and primaries in the coming weeks and months, decides to bow out and give his endorsement to Rubio in hopes of saving the party from incinerating itself by nominating Trump or Cruz. That would shift the endorsement and fundraising edge to Rubio and make him difficult to beat.

But that’s speculation, and it’s clear the Republican race remains muddled and figures to be so through the Mississippi primary on March 8. At the very least, that will increase interest here. Usually the nominee is already decided by the time Mississippi holds its primary.

We predict a resounding Trump win in Mississippi and elsewhere in the South, where his “white rage” message will be popular, but don’t pencil him in as the nominee yet.

If you’re wondering about how the Democratic race stands in the New York Times analysis, it remains as clear as it did back in 2008: Hillary Clinton leads in the polls, national endorsements and money raised. Proud socialist Bernie Sanders does have a polling edge over her in New Hampshire, but that ultimately won’t be worth much of anything nationally. Clinton will clearly be the Democrat’s choice.

A lot could change, but we’re betting she’ll face Rubio in November.

By Charlie Smith
Indianola