The Iowa caucus started on Tuesday, Feb. 4th, and two days later, we still weren’t sure who won. For days, two candidates claimed victory.
Citizens all over the country are calling for a revolution of our voting system. The Iowa Caucus is being used as a way to portray the United States as a failing democracy, and people all over the country are campaigning for change. However, the fight over how we count our votes is overshadowing all of the American citizens who were never given the chance to vote in the first place.
Across the country, inconsistent voting laws suppress our rights –– especially in Mississippi. While these failures in democracy aren’t seen as much as the nationally acclaimed Iowa caucuses, they are equally, if not more, detrimental. Here are a few of the voting laws in Mississippi that make or break our voting opportunities, especially as college students:
There is no early voting in the state of Mississippi. As a Tennessean, I’ve grown up with “Vote Here” signs scattered all across my city weeks before the official election day. I didn’t know this wasn’t a nationwide rule until recently. I thought early voting was common sense, and as a student, early voting allows me to find a day to go home to vote in Tennessee elections if I don’t want to mail in an absentee ballot.
But my Mississippian friends don’t have this luxury. My roommate lives on the Mississippi coast, six hours south of Oxford. When she votes, she can either make the twelve hour round-trip drive on a weekday, or she can vote by absentee ballot. An absentee ballot can be sent through the mail, but it could arrive late or get lost. The ballot can also be turned in to the County Circuit Clerk Office, which is a safer approach. Either way, it has to be signed by a notary public, or another official witness and could include a fee. Is it impossible to vote? No, but the process is unnecessarily complicated. Put simply, I have more rights than my roommate, as a voter, as an American; Mississippi is stifling our right to vote.
As a college student, a simple solution is to update your address on your voter registration, but it’s not made to be very simple. Ordinarily, P.O. Boxes can’t be used as a permanent address on voter registrations forms, but college students are allowed an exception –– as long as they turn in a signed affidavit, verifying their new address. A complex set of rules dictates how college students vote, and it takes more than a quick google search to decipher them. Even if you do know all of the rules, they may not work in your favor, if you aren’t able to receive an affidavit, for example.
Even college students who are close to their precincts have a difficult time voting. If you have classes all day, homework to finish and no way to drive to your voting precinct, you may not have the time, or the resources, to vote –– or to get your absentee ballot notarized. A better solution would be a voting precinct on our campus and a concise set of laws to guarantee our votes.
While writing this column, I had an incredibly hard time finding clear, consistent information on voting laws. The rules are written awkwardly and made difficult to understand for a young person wanting to know how to vote. It’s intimidation, and it’s wrong.
Emily Stewart is a freshman international studies and Arabic major from Columbia, Tennessee.