HomeOpinionMadison Co. must improve early voting accessibility

Madison Co. must improve early voting accessibility

The right to vote is one of the greatest cornerstones of our democracy, as is ensuring voting accessibility.

Election days are always a weekday, which is a workday for most Americans.  Despite regulations that require employers to accommodate time off for employees to vote, the reality is that voting usually must be squeezed in among errands and time on the job. A majority of states have passed laws that let citizens vote in person before Election Day, the goal being for Americans to be able to vote on their own time — weekends included —to usually avoid long lines and to increase participation.

Tennesseans began early in-person voting in 1994 upon the passage of The Tennessee Early Voting Act.  The three arguments in favor of early voting were 1) that it increases turnout among particular demographic groups, 2) that it reduces wait times at the polls on election day, and 3) that it allows administrators ample time to correct errors.

Here in Madison County, we are woefully behind our neighboring counties in the number of days and hours provided to early vote. Madison County, with a population of nearly 100,000, provides only one location to early vote while Gibson County, with a population of just over 50,000, provides three locations. 

The one Madison County early voting location is open a total of only 86 hours during the early voting period, while both Carroll County and Dyer County are open 122+ hours.  In fact, all but five of the 18 counties surrounding Madison County provide more hours for early voting than our county.

Madison County is also dead last amongst all surrounding counties in the number of early voting hours offered outside of weekday 9-4 hours.  Madison County (and 3 other counties) offer only 9 hours. Contrast that with Carroll and Dyer who offer 45.5 and 45 hours, respectively. 

What is the result?  Disturbingly and consistently low voter participation.  The percentage of Madison County registered voters who actually voted in the November 2022 Presidential election was a dismal 39 percent.  We must do better.

Jackson/Madison County is poised to grow exponentially over the next decade thanks, in part, to the addition of Blue Oval City as well as to the progressive and forward-thinking leadership of many of our elected officials.  As they have led, so should the Election Commission. 

The goal of our Election Commission should be for Madison County to lead West Tennessee in providing opportunities for all of its citizens to vote.

We therefore call on the Commission to authorize expansion of early voting hours to include substantially more weekend and evening hours. We call on the Commission to authorize adding at least one more voting site inside the city of Jackson that is accessible by public transportation.  We call on the Commission to move Madison County to the top of the list for voting accessibility, rather than allowing us to languish at the bottom.  We call on our Commission to lead.  

What message are we sending to new industry and new residents by failing to do so?  Do we not value this cornerstone of our democracy?  Do we not value all citizens’ right to vote? 

We urge all Jacksonians and Madison Countians to contact the members of the Madison County Election Commission to express your support for the expansion of early voting options in time for the upcoming City of Jackson elections.  Email the Administrator of Elections, Lori Lott, at llott@madisoncountytn.gov and email the Election Commissioners at elections@madisoncountytn.gov.  You can also call the Commission at (731) 660-1796. 

Commissioners will be voting on details for early voting for the May elections at the upcoming Election Commission meeting scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 23 at 10 a.m. at the County Finance Department Office, 1981 Hollywood Drive, Suite 100. 

The meeting is open to the public, and we encourage all who value our collective right to vote to attend. 

The Madison Area Democratic Women submitted this guest column. To submit guest columns, e-mail them to brandon@jacksonpost.news.

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