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Young Black Voters Could Change Democracy, With Effort

Hinds County Circuit Clerk Zack Wallace outlined countless pratfalls to voting in Mississippi.

Undemocratic gerrymanders infest Mississippi electoral districts so thoroughly that it is nearly impossible for a House or Senate seat to switch parties. Mississippi politicians cherry-pick their own voters using demographics and race-based voting patterns to ensure their districts are filled with supporters. One political party has effectively used this method to dominate the state House and exclude all but two Black politicians from the legislative process in a state that is 40 percent Black.

Statewide elections are different, however. Electoral offices like the governor, the attorney general and the lieutenant governor are decided on Nov. 7 purely by majority vote. It is in these statewide races that Mississippi’s Black population may finally sway democracy—and their input is desperately needed.

Just a few months ago, Mississippi politicians like Attorney General Lynn Fitch forced a 13-year-old Black rape victim to carry her rapist’s child to term. Fitch refused to take responsibility for her role in the situation. Like many Mississippi incumbents, Fitch avoids most voters and reporters. When she was pounced last month and asked to address the rape she merely said “thank you” and refused questions.

Flagrant indifference to the misery of Mississippi women after the end of Roe is precisely why women, youth and Black voters need to vote in 2023, and it’s why get-out-the-vote workers should register everybody they can in the two months leading up to the November election.

But before you grab your stack of mail-in voter registration applications and start snatching strangers at football games and entertainment venues there are some things GOTV workers need to know about registering strangers, or their hard work may be wasted.

1. Make sure applicants know the law before you let them walk away.

Hinds County Circuit Clerk Zack Wallace spoke to BGX about some of the pratfalls of registering new and younger voters.

“It’s not a problem with people registering people to vote. It’s a problem with people going out to vote,” Wallace said. “We have over 164,000 registered voters (in Hinds County). When people have voter drives, they don’t explain to people when the next election is, or the absentee process or any important dates.”

Election Day is Tuesday, November 7, but registering people is pointless if voters miss the day because of schedule conflicts or they vote absentee without meeting Mississippi’s burdensome absentee voting requirements. Mississippi is a state whose legislators have viciously discouraged voting, and they still don’t like Mississippians living out of state to participate in democracy—particularly college students. For this reason, everybody voting absentee because of a schedule conflict or because they’ll be out of town on Nov. 7 (because they’re a student) must take the extra step of getting their absentee ballot stamped by a registered notary. Only then will the Mississippi circuit clerk’s office forward their ballot for a count. This requirement only applies to absentee voters who aren’t temporarily or permanently disabled. Additionally, absentee voting starts 45 days before the Nov. 7 election, so the further away students live from Mississippi the sooner they need to mail their vote.

Another critical date that every new applicant should hammer into their heads is “Oct. 9”. The state of Mississippi requires new voters to register at least 30 days before Election Day to better derail prospective voters who show up at the polls. The election cycle gets intense in the final months as political ads flood the media. But, by then, many would-be voters find it’s too late to register because of the state’s undemocratic deadline. A list of registration deadlines for states is available here.

On top of other burdens, Mississippi requires a photo ID to vote, even from individuals voting in person by absentee ballot in the days before Election Day. A list of acceptable identification is available here, but many young people don’t have any photo ID. The state can issue them voter-specific ID at the circuit clerk’s office, or they can download an application for state ID here.

Another thing: Mississippi officials adore switching up polling places and dividing districts. This could leave a voter standing at the wrong voting location on Election Day with no time to find the new, updated location before having to get back to work. Check in advance to know where to go by clicking here.

2. Make sure your applicants’ info is accurate and legible.

Wallace said his office frequently must dump perfectly legitimate voters from the count because applicants got in a hurry and goofed the info.

“I always tell (Get-Out-The-Vote) people to watch what they wrote,” Wallace said. “Make sure the applicants have put in their full name, and that we can actually read it. And pay very close attention to their date of birth and the last four digits of their Social Security number.”

It’s easy to flub information on Mississippi’s mail-in voter registration application (available here) when people are distracted and in a hurry, but get the name right. If it doesn’t sound clear, GOTV workers should spell it back to the applicant. Another blunder is when a student marks down a zip code that doesn’t match their street address. Students are transitory by nature, so there could be a dozen zip codes floating around in their recent memory. But a gaffe like that can kill democracy quicker than a January insurrection. So, vigilance is a must.

Students staying on campus at Jackson State University can use the school’s address at 1400 J.R. Lynch Street, Jackson, MS 39217. They can include their dorm P.O. Box number on the application, but the school’s address is pivotal. The same goes for Millsaps College students: 1701 N. State Street, Jackson, MS 39202.

Students frequently burn through cell phone numbers every eight months, so GOTV workers should make a point to get applicants’ most updated phone info. An accurate number can help fix the inevitable snafu.

“Not having a current phone number won’t automatically deep-six your application, but if there’s an additional problem with your address, name or something else, not having a working number is going to complicate things,” Wallace said.

Also, do not forget the signature: the application is garbage without it. Direct applicants here to make sure they’re on the rolls—and make sure they confirm details in time to get things in working order before the state’s onerous 30-day registration deadline. Remember, Mississippi is designed to leave young voters standing at the polls, wondering what happened.

3. Democracy desperately needs you!

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves won his election four years ago by roughly 45,000 votes, and he is not popular. More than 90,000 Republicans voted against him in the Republican primary. If those same voters maintain their disgust of him in November, the election could be swayed by only a few thousand votes.

Reports suggest young voters are incensed by the end of Roe, as well as impending climate disaster and economic insecurity. National Public Radio reports youth turnout in national elections to be the second-highest for midterm elections in the past 30 years, as well as the second-highest for midterm elections. Roughly 61,000 voters under the age of 24 voted in Mississippi in the 2022 national election, as did 108,000 people under the age of 34.

However, the numbers are still low, so Former JSU Executive Director of Community Engagement Kimberly Hilliard says the youth vote in Mississippi packs enough potential growth to shake the system.

“Could they make a difference? Absolutely! I know they could. In the past, (youth) turnout was 35 percent, but now we’re down to 15 percent. Just getting people back could change everything,” Hilliard said.

Correction: This article originally listed the filing deadline for voter registration in Mississippi as "Oct. 7." It is Oct. 9. We apologize for the inaccuracy.


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