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Suggestions for Change: Panel Reviews Current Mississippi Election Laws

JACKSON, Miss. — In light of this year’s election troubles surrounding the senate runoff between Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel, Miss. Secretary of State Hosemann has put together a 51 member panel with the task of examining the states election practices. The panel consists of political leaders, lawmakers, county leaders, scholars, and students.

Hosemann has several meetings planned over the next two months and plans to have a recommendation to present to the state legislature next year.

At Wednesday’s meeting the group went over the different types of elections that are present among the 50 states and how the compare to Mississippi’s current election process.

The different types of elections include:

Closed Primary – Voters register with a particular party and may only vote in that party’s primary election.

Semi Closed Primary – Unaffiliated voters may choose which party primary to vote, while voters registered with a party may only vote in that party’s primary.

Open Primary – Voters of any affiliation are allowed to vote in the primaries of any party they choose. Voters cannot vote in more than one party’s primary and must choose candidates for all offices from only one party. Also, typically voters do not have to declare their affiliation when they register to vote.

Top-two Primary – A two staged system where all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, appear on the same ballot. Parties do not hold their own primaries and if they do it is done outside the public election system. The purpose is not to choose the nominee for a political party, but narrow the list of candidates for the election.

Mississippi’s election process does not fall into any of these categories. Voters do not register by party, but the law says voters cannot vote in a party’s primary unless they intent to later support its candidate, however, that was ruled impossible to enforce by federal courts. Hosemann said at Tuesday’s panel that he would like to see revisions so voting laws can actually be enforced, or as he puts it, “The less interpretation, the less litigation.”

Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler was part of Tuesday’s panel and says is satisfied with the results of his state’s new election process, which is a Top-two primary. “You should have the right to change your vote any more than if you’re in the state legislature. If you vote this way in committee, it doesn’t mean you vote this way on the floor. There may be information that comes in between that you change your vote,” said Schedler. “We always have crossover votes. We vote on an issues and that is where we should be on a national government level. That is the problem in Washington D.C., that we are so party driven.”

Republican Chair Joe Nosef and Democratic Chair Rickey Cole were also part of the panel. Both seemed cautious on making overhauls to Mississippi’s current election system. Cole believed there could be unintended consequences with drastic changes, but Nosef noted it was frustrating that there was not practical way to enforce current election laws.

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