Mississippi voters will go to the polls this week on Nov. 7 to elect their new governor, attorney general, state senator, House legislators and other officials in statewide, regional and legislative elections. This major election follows voters’ emergence in the August 2023 party primaries, which low voter turnout allegedly marred.
“Unfortunately, the turnout for this primary election was approximately 30% of registered voters, the lowest statewide turnout since 2007, despite the promising absentee-ballot numbers and the work we’ve done registering and educating voters across the state,” Republican Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson wrote in his September 2023 newsletter. Low voter turnout threatens Mississippi’s democracy, delegitimizes the government and affects minorities.
Legitimacy resides with the people, and they can give or withdraw it at any time without notice, depending on the prevailing circumstances. Even in a truly representative government, legitimacy can be withdrawn due to poor government policies and programs.
It is even more worrisome if there is no legitimacy from the beginning. That will make implementing some policies and programs difficult or nearly impossible for elected officials. This can lead to political strife and the inability to provide security, resulting in the loss of life and property. It can also increase unemployment, affect the education and health sectors, block access to basic social amenities like roads and water, and stall the area’s overall development. “With legitimacy at the heart of state-building, its absence (or loss) is likely to lead to a collapse of public institutions and the ultimate failure of the state,” independent scholar Tarek Abou Jaoude wrote in June 2022.
Low voter turnout affects minorities. For example, in Mississippi alone, 853,627 adults, representing 35% or 1 in 3 adults in the state, are living with disabilities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. These people are already marginalized in all spheres of national life, including the country’s electoral system. They face various voter suppression tactics, lack access to voting resources, and do not trust the entire political process. Because of this, they do not vote and are underrepresented or not represented at all in government. This means that Mississippians with disabilities are usually not part of the decision-making process where decisions concerning them are made.
Even Watson himself recognizes this fact. “As a reminder, elections directly affect every part of our daily lives. From the roads on which we drive, the amount of taxes we pay, and even the regulations on our barbers, all are controlled by the people we elect,” Watson said. “Whether you show up on Election Day or not, a decision will be made as to who will create, regulate, and enforce laws at both the state and county levels.”
Enhance Access To Political Participation
Some people, like Watson, now beat their chests and would argue that Mississippi had done enough in “registering and educating voters across the state,” but that is barely enough. Even with the “promising absentee ballot numbers,” many Mississippians still did not vote during the August 2023 primaries for reasons beyond their control. Mississippi has a long and complicated history of disenfranchising the electorate through voter-suppression tactics: the absence of universal early-voting options, the non-provision for no-excuse absentee voting, the lack of online voter registration, the last-minute moving of polling precincts, and strict voter-ID laws. All these measures are aimed at making the voting process unappealing to minorities and keeping them away from politics so that they have little or no say in state affairs.
Enhancing access to political participation is critical to a thriving representative democracy. A multi-faceted approach is essential, ranging from comprehensive voter education and modernizing the registration processes through online platforms, to streamlining absentee voting and repealing laws that hinder voter participation. Mississippi will continue to face the challenge of low voter turnout without these comprehensive measures. This diminishes citizen engagement not only in state affairs, but also in the broader democratic process, and it has far-reaching consequences that stifle democratic vitality and economic progress.
As the late Congressman John Lewis eloquently stated, “The right to vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool or instrument in a democratic society. We must use it.”
With these powerful words in mind, we issue a resounding call to action: Get out and vote to exercise your democratic right. Your ballot is not merely a personal privilege, but a precious instrument that shapes our collective future. By casting your vote, you contribute to fortifying the legitimacy and effectiveness of our democratic institutions. Let’s collectively rise to the occasion and ensure that Mississippi’s democracy flourishes, one vote at a time.
This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Journalism and Education Group, the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an opinion for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and sources fact-checking the included information to email@example.com. We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.