It was my second year of law school when I, like many of my colleagues, called my local circuit’s Clerk of Court’s office to request an absentee ballot. Mike Espy was running against Cindy Hyde Smith, and I decided I had to be a part of the opportunity to elect the second black US Senator in Mississippi History. Mike Espy ran with a goal of impacting the Mississippi economy, agriculture, education, and healthcare. I was sold as a voter, and very quickly requested my absentee ballot. Mike Espy being elected to the United States Senate made me excited about returning home after graduating from law school.
I was strangely overjoyed when I received my ballot in the mail; I even called my parents because I was so proud of the fact that I was exercising my right to vote in such a pivotal election. This excitement quickly turned to shock when I opened up the envelope and realized not only was the postage not prepaid, it also needed to be notarized. I combed through the halls of my law school looking for a professor who, by chance, happened to bring her seal, and hoping that professor wouldn’t charge me, because, let’s be honest…that refund check only stretches so far. Luckily, a professor freely notarized my absentee ballot and even gave me the stamps to mail it. Even after that whole debacle, I pushed the experience to the back of my mind, at least until there was a run off. Then, it dawned on me: is it actually this difficult to vote absentee in the State of Mississippi? Unfortunately, it is. Even as a law student, the thought of my being a disenfranchised voter never crossed my mind.
At the time, I didn’t know that voting could even be an issue for me. I knew I needed to vote, so, I just went with it. It wasn’t until I spoke to my colleagues, who were also residents of other states, that I realized the process I completed was, in fact, absurd. The majority merely had to fill out their ballots in front of a witness, with no seal needed, and mail their prepaid envelope back to the circuit clerk. At that moment, I concluded that those states wanted to ensure that their citizens could vote, and my own did not.
Historically, the state of Mississippi has infamously made voting difficult for its citizens, especially black voters. From literacy tests to poll taxes, it has always seemed that Mississippi’s mission has been to deny certain groups a right that was owed to them. Most notably, people were arrested for trying to register black people to vote, even after it was made legal. Nevertheless, it left me to question whether the 24th amendment was passed in vain. Under the 24th amendment, citizens shall not be denied the right to vote by the United States, or any State, for failure to pay a poll tax or other tax. Forcing an absent voter to pay for postage and a notary seems quite unnecessary, doesn’t it?
In a time where young black Mississippians run from their home state due to racism, a lack of opportunity, and lack of support, paying a notary and shelling out loose change for postage is nothing short of a poll tax[AL1] .
In a time where young black Mississippians run from their home state due to racism, a lack of opportunity, and lack of support, paying a notary and shelling out loose change for postage is nothing short of a poll tax.
On November 5, 2019, the State of Mississippi held a nationally watched gubernatorial election that could have truly changed the political climate of our state. From education to healthcare, Mississippi citizens could have awoken to a new era in Mississippi politics. On the day of the election, citizens throughout the state made it their job to guarantee that polling precincts had enough voting machines, thus allowing persons to vote without proof of residency, and ensuring that traditional disenfranchised voters were disenfranchised no more, but, by this point, the silent victim in this matter, those being myself and my colleagues, had already been ignored.
Legislation has been suggested to allow college students a voting process similar to that of military and peace corps members, by not forcing college students to have their ballots notarized and mailed back. Alas, this proposal failed in the 2019 Mississippi Legislative Session.
We cannot expect college students who are procedurally barred from having a voice in their state’s elections, even if it does cost them only a few dollars, to want to return and contribute to the state of Mississippi. Mississippi is losing its future to a postage stamp and a signature and this practice must be stopped.