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OPINION: Early voting hours is a tough decision with good arguments from both sides

The debate about early voting hours is picking up as the Madison County Election Commission is about to meet to officially approve the hours for the upcoming Jackson municipal elections in April.

And this is one of those issues where people on both sides don’t make bad points per se, but the good points they do make have holes in them.

My friends from the right say early voting or through the mail shouldn’t happen at all. Election Day is an honored tradition that should be properly revered by citizens, and all votes cast should be cast on that one day in person.

There’s one main problem with that though.

How many citizens who live in the city limits of Jackson are currently serving in the military and are stationed elsewhere in the world? Anywhere from Fort Benning near Columbus, Ga., which is a good eight-hour drive from Jackson, to Iraq, which takes a few more hours to travel to Jackson from because no one has offered to pay for the bridge over whichever ocean would be appropriate for that drive.

So if Jackson voter John Doe is serving his country keeping the peace in Baghdad throughout the month of April and early May, some of my friends think Mr. Doe doesn’t get to vote, which is the most fundamental right of an American citizen. So the guy serving the country not being able to do the most fundamental right seems wrong. Private First Class Doe needs to be able to vote through the mail.

And you can’t just make concessions for military. What if John Doe isn’t a soldier. Instead, he’s a traveling nurse or a shorter-term missionary who’s gone for a couple months and can’t get back to Jackson on May 2. Nurse Doe and Missionary Doe need to have mail-in voting.

Or this: Mr. Doe isn’t a soldier or a traveling nurse or a missionary. In fact, he’s actually in Jackson on Election Day. And even though he has every intention of casting his vote for his choice for Mayor and his choice for his City Council representative, he can’t because he’s on staff as a trauma surgeon at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital, and a complicated case comes into the emergency department at 7 a.m. on that Tuesday, and he’s working on this patient all day and can’t get to his voting precinct before the 7 p.m. deadline because he’s elbow-deep in his patient’s rib cage keeping the person from dying. Dr. Doe needs early voting (of course we also have to assume he’d have taken advantage of early voting before this trauma case came in during his shift at the hospital, but that’s a different column).

But then the other side believes that if people really, really want to vote early, the current obstacles they claim are keeping them from it won’t matter.

More affluent people who claim they can’t get away from work or Saturday morning obligations, but how many of them are still able to get away for lunch or other appointments through the day?

For less fortunate people who claim they can’t get to the Election Commission office to vote early because of lack of transportation, how many of them are able to get to a food giveaway at one of our local non-profits or churches?

Since I legitimately can’t decide on a right answer between the issues, I have to say both are the right answers.

And because the current election commission has a 3-2 advantage for Republicans, then assuming all voting on the issue will go down party lines, then we know what we can expect when they vote on Thursday.

But it sounds like people from both sides of the issue intend to be at the meeting on Thursday, which is why it’s at the County Finance Department on Hollywood Drive (10 a.m.) instead of the Election Commission – to accommodate the possible crowd.

Both sides will try to give an argument compelling enough to change the minds of anyone who disagrees.Brandon Shields is the managing editor of The Jackson Post. Contact him at brandon@jacksonpost.news. Follow him on Twitter @JSEditorBrandon or Instagram @Editorbrandon.

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