Last week the House of Representatives passed the Early Voting Act (HB 853) authored by Rep. Tommy Reynolds (D-Charleston).

Early voting increases the opportunity for election fraud, lengthens the campaign season and diminishes political debate, creates logistical challenges for election officials, and substitutes a civics of convenience for our citizen fellowship.

The compression of an election into one day makes fraud more difficult. Time constrains the efforts of those illegally impacting an election. That's why it is no surprise we face challenges with illegal absentee ballots: there are weeks to manipulate instead of one day. This early voting would not replace absentee ballots; yet it creates a process insulated from the challenge and appeal process of absentees.

We should absolutely not institute early voting until we first have in place photo voter-ID. Last year I reported on Jennifer Jackson in Brookhaven who went to vote only to discover someone had already stolen her vote by using her name (and the name of her deceased father) to cast a vote. Someone walked in, claimed they were her, signed her name, and voted. With two-weeks of early voting and no photo voter-ID, don't be surprised if you show up on Election Day to find someone already voted for you, too.

Candidates may place a poll watcher at each polling place to make sure the law is being followed. Under this proposal, on a county level, a candidate wishing to exercise this right would have to recruit individuals to poll watch for early voting as well: a person at the courthouse all day for about two weeks. But if you are a statewide candidate, seeking to exercise that right in each of Mississippi's 82 counties with early voting means thousands of additional volunteer hours.

If you want to decrease the impact money has on elections, you should oppose early voting. Rather than focusing resources on one day of decisions, campaigns expand for three weeks of decisions. Campaigns will start earlier, increase intensity quicker, send more mail, be on television and radio longer, and will need more money to do it.

Campaigns are about informing and persuading; early voting allows for the great democratic debate to be cut short. Final moments of a campaign can be decisive: a candidate makes a gaff, a terrorist attacks, the economy melts down, or someone withdraws. A voter cannot change his mind after early voting (but one can after absentee voting).

On a jury, you may during a trial lean toward one verdict or another, but we don't make the final decision until after both sides make their closing arguments. Early voting encourages citizens to decide before the conclusion of the campaign. I believe we owe it to the democratic process to let all the issues and all the debates conclude before casting the vote.

This particular early voting measure, now before the Senate for consideration, increases costs and creates logistical problems for election officials. The bill requires early voting at courthouses from twenty days before an election until five days before the election. (How this is accomplished during a 14 run-off election is not addressed.) During those two weeks, voting must be allowed from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. on week days and 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturdays: a problem when those are not typical business hours for a circuit clerk. But a circuit clerk may hire a deputy to assist up to thirty-five days before the election. At minimum wage, the county would only have to cough up a couple thousand more dollars per election, but were it to be a statewide special election, those 82 deputies could cost the State Board of Elections more than $180,000.

Pragmatism, politics, and logistics aside, there is also something to say about the symbolism and ritual of civic unity - the historic practice of Election Day that binds us to the generations before us as we choose our leaders. Following a robust public debate on issues and personalities; after sorting through platforms and attacks; after weighing the future of Mississippi and those individuals putting themselves up for public service, we all come together on one day and vote and make our voices heard. We leave our computers and couches and venture to the community location designated for voting - a school, a church, a fire station - and we see our neighbors: rich or poor, educated or ignorant, powerful or power less - in the great egalitarian experiment where all our votes are equal. We see it. We feel it. Our confidence in government is strengthened when we take civic communion at the church of democracy.

In the end, the process arguments over early voting are not as important as rejecting the cynicism that would toss that unity of citizen action out for a civics of convenience.

Brian Perry of Jackson is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him at