HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann announced "a proposed complete revision of Mississippi election laws" Tuesday.
"We basically started in 1890, and we rewrote the whole election law," Hosemann said.
Hosemann proposed major changes in five major areas:
- Modernized Criminal Penalties
- Consolidates all election crimes in Chapter 13, Title 97 of the Mississippi Code
- Updates penalties to match fines and sentences applied to other felonies and misdemeanors
- Online Voter Registration
- Modernizes and streamlines Mississippi's voter registration system
- Brings Mississippi in line with over half the United States which allows for online registration
- Will allow United States citizens who are Mississippi residents who possess a Mississippi driver's license or DPS issued identification card to register electronically
- Will help eliminate errors and reduce costs of paper registrations
- Pre-Election Day Voting
- Creates a twenty-one (21) day no excuse voting period for citizens to cast their ballot before election day.
- Voting will be conducted only at the County Courthouse during the pre-election voting period
- Any registered voter may cast a final vote during the pre-election voting period
- Eliminates the need for in-person absentee voting
- Financial Disclosures to Voters
- Moves deadline for political committees to file a statement of organization from ten (10) days after receiving or spending funds, to forty-eight (48) hours after spending or receiving funds.
- Increases transparency by requiring filers to itemize payments made to credit card issuers, banks, or online payment portals
- Places sanctions on political committees that fail to make required filings with the Secretary of State
- Presidential Primary
- Moves Mississippi's Presidential Preference Primary from the second Tuesday in March to the first Tuesday
- Will make Mississippi have a stronger voice in choosing the presidential nominees
The revisions were created by Hosemann's bipartisan election reform committee that he started in 2014. That committee included Rep. Toby Barker and Forrest and Perry County District Attorney Patricia Burchell.
"It's a total redo of the election code, and it will put us at the head and top notch of every election provision of any state," Hosemann said. "Five years ago we couldn't write it because we were so concerned about photo IDs, about absentee ballot fraud, about so many other things, and we overcame that now. "
He said the revisions are a result of the Mississippi voter ID requirement.
"When we implemented that, Mississippi by the way is the only state in the country that has won every voting case and not been sued by the Justice Department over voter ID," Hosemann said. "We're the only state that's done that, and that's a tribute to our people. When we implemented that, 99.9 percent of the people showed up with an ID. So we implemented that, and that's allowed us to really flip a historical page in our state. Now that we trust each other and people believe in the integrity of the vote, we're now able to start pre-election voting, online registration, more criminal penalties. Absentee voting has been tightened tremendously, but it's all based on the predicate that started with a very successful roll out of voter ID."
Hosemann said many of the changes would help combat issues Hattiesburg has had in past elections, like criminal prosecutions for suspected voter fraud.
"For a long time, nobody was prosecuted by that," he said. "We had prosecutions here earlier in the last election as you know, but the criminal provisions were sporadic and inconsistent and not often applicable. So with that, we have redone all of the criminal provisions here, making misdemeanors and felonies for people who try to cheat your vote."
Hosemann said Hattiesburg and the Pine Belt would benefit from legislation on suspicious campaign mailers.
"People are dropping mail here and they won't tell you who they are or they'll file a false return with the Secretary of State's Office," Hosemann said. "Those mailers were dropped here and all around Mississippi. As part of this election reform, now they'll have to tell us who they are. We're in litigation over today, the state of Mississippi and I am."
As far as passing the legislation, Hosemann said each piece will be introduced as an individual bill, and the entire revision plan will also be presented as one bill.
"We will give the whole bill to the chairman of each committee," he said. "These two bills will be introduced by the committee chairs. We will also introduce each one of these separately, like pre-election voting, suspicious mailers, criminal penalties. All of those will be separate bills as well. So if we lose suspicious campaign mailers, we don't lose the whole thing. So you'll see probably half a dozen bills plus a master bill."
He said he does not expect push back on any particular portion or the will as a whole.
"I don't, and I'll tell you why," Hosemann said. "First of all, getting though voter ID was a big thing. The second thing is that most people want to ensure the integrity of the vote. They want to make sure they you're a citizen of the United States and Mississippi when you cast your ballot, and they want to penalize people who don't. These cover that, and each one of them protects each individual right. So I think you'll find a wealth of support among Mississippians for this bill."
Hosemann said a summary and the legislation itself will be available online, and he encourages voters to review it and make suggestions.
"People here in Hatttiesburg have been through this election, and so I would ask them to read it. Take a look at it," he said. "Just because 40 something individuals drafted it doesn't mean that we got everything."
He said the legislation is supposed to be introduced next week.
"You know, I don't know that it's necessarily as I would have drafted it or somebody in the public would've drafted it," Hosemann said. "But overall, it's a great piece of legislation, and we should pass it all."