By Rachel Ann Hicks

Long lines at polling places made big headlines last election cycle. Though remarkable, many expected the unusual Election Day waits which were caused by a record number of Americans participating in the democratic process.

More surprising though were the pre-Election Day polling lines: due to the new national trend known as in-person early voting, thousands of Americans lined up to vote before Election Day.

Like voters in Arkansas, Georgia, and Tennessee, Mississippi should join in and adopt in-person early voting because it will improve democratic participation -- and, therefore, democracy -- in Mississippi.

Despite experiencing our highest voter turnout during the last presidential election cycle, Mississippi’s rate of voter participation still leaves us below the national average for 2008. Historically, the news is even worse. Turnout statistics from the last two midterm elections, 2002 and 2006, show Mississippi ranked last or next to last nationally. Although more Mississippians vote in our gubernatorial election years than in midterm election years, voter participation in these important state races lags that of states whose officials are elected in the same year as the president.

Low voter turnout sends a signal to our elected officials that they do not need to be accountable to all of their constituents. Unless all registered voters express their desires through the ballot box, we undermine a fundamental principle of American democracy -- that our government is “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

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