Voting: a Common Cause

by Zachary Oren Smith

At 7 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 4, the ballot boxes for this year’s elections will open. For months, lobbies have been expending millions of dollars to get their candidates on the minds of voters. With so much money concentrated in elections, it is natural for voters to feel powerless in the face of such might—enter Common Cause.

Common Cause, according to its website, is a “non-profit, non-partisan, grassroots advocacy organization” that works to “strengthen public participation and ensure that public officials and public institutions are accountable and responsive to citizens.” Elise Smith, before she joined the faculty at Millsaps College, was the administrative assistant for Common Cause’s Florida branch. Currently she works as a member of the Board for Common Cause Mississippi. In an interview, she said that the lobby’s efforts can be divided into two major spheres: “voting rights and ethical standards.”

Mississippi has a history of taking voting rights from its citizens and even denying citizenship based on racial prejudice. Even though explicit laws that block African Americans from the ballots no longer exist, in 2013, senate bill 23-15-563 was passed into the 2013 Mississippi Code. This bill requires voters to present a “current and valid photo identification before such person shall be allowed to vote.” Even though section four lays out provisions for those who might use this to intimidate and otherwise turn people away from voting, Smith and Common Cause MS feel that this is not enough. “[The state] must work to avoid intimidation at the polls,” Smith says. “Many people don’t go to the polls because they are prevented from going there [by heightened voting requirements.]”

Smith traces the strict voting ID politics to people “thinking that the system is being abused.” She explained that there is little evidence to support voter fraud as a major problem in American politics. In 2007, the New York Times conducted a study that found 120 cases filed by the Justice Department over five years. Thirty-four of these cases stemmed from wrongly filled registration forms and mistakes in voter eligibility. That left 86 voter fraud convictions. Smith stands resolved that rather than tightening controls over voter eligibility, we should “strengthen laws that protect voting rights.”

She encourages students to check out sites like 866 Our Vote and the Brennan Center for information on how to vote in their own communities. Both sites feature instruction for locals on where they can vote in the area, as well as, information on how to vote absentee ballot for those living outside the Jackson area.