News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
MONDAY, APRIL 16, 2007


Mardi Gras election brings out creativity

A conflict between Mardi Gras and the desired date for an early presidential primary has forced Alabama lawmakers to think outside the box.

They want to hold the primary on Feb. 5, 2008, so the state will have more influence than if it sticks with the present date in June. The idea seems to work. Presidential candidates such as John McCain, Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have already visited Alabama.

But Feb. 5 is also Fat Tuesday, the final day of Mardi Gras, which makes it a bad day to hold an election in Mobile and Baldwin counties — too much congestion, too much competition for votersí attention.

Not to worry. The Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill (now pending in the Senate) to let residents of those two counties vote almost a week early, on Wednesday, Jan. 30. The results would be sealed until Feb. 5. Each county would open one polling place on Feb. 5. Any voter in either county could cast an absentee ballot.

It seems to be a good plan, and it raises a question: If we can do this for Mardi Gras in two counties, why canít we give all Alabamians more flexibility about when and where to vote in every election?

Election days are Tuesdays because of Americaís rural history. Most rural residents had to make a slow trip to the county seat to vote, and Monday elections might have required travel on Sunday, conflicting with church. Travel is much faster today, polls are conveniently located, and thereís no good reason to stay with Tuesday. Saturday or Sunday might be better, eliminating conflicts with most peopleís work schedules.

Saturday or Sunday elections might never fly in Alabama because of college football and church, but there are other options.

The Washington-based Election Reform Information Project reports on that 15 states allow no-excuse early voting, 16 states allow no-excuse in-person absentee voting, and one state (Oregon) votes entirely by mail. Alabama is not on any of these lists, but maybe it should be.

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