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Mississippi editorial roundup

By The Associated PressSeptember 4, 2019

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

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Aug. 30

The Greenwood Commonwealth on instances of touchscreen voting machines malfunctioning during Mississippi elections:

Aug. 27′s election gave further credence to the argument that the touchscreen voting machines Mississippi uses should be mothballed.

Voters and election officials reported several cases where the Diebold TSX voting machines, still used in 69 counties, including Leflore and Carroll, malfunctioned. In one case, captured on a widely circulated video, a Lafayette County voter clicked on Bill Waller Jr.’s name in the Republican gubernatorial primary, and his vote registered for Tate Reeves. The voter tried it a dozen times and got the same result.

This malfunction was a bit comical because it was visible. But what if the same thing had happened “under the hood” — that is, the voter clicked on Waller’s name, saw the check mark in the right place on the touchscreen, but when he cast the ballot, it recorded the vote for Reeves on the machine’s memory card. Since there is no paper ballot to compare the voter’s intent to what is recorded electronically, it is impossible to verify the accuracy of the electronic vote.

To say any such vote-swapping occurred is far-fetched, but there is no way currently to rule out the possibility.

That’s why Mississippi needs to mandate that all counties have a paper trail for their voting machines, such as the paper ballot/optical scanner combo to which the remaining 13 counties have gone.

Not only would that be a check against fraud, but in the more probable scenario, it would allow election officials to recreate the vote if the election technology were to fail.

Online: https://www.gwcommonwealth.com

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Aug. 27

The Columbus Dispatch on a recent cheating scandal among athletes at a state university:

Over the past week or so, much has been said about the cheating scandal involving players on the Mississippi State football and men’s basketball team, almost all of it in the context of how it affects the university’s athletic teams.

The penalties are widespread and include game suspensions for the 10 football players and one men’s basketball player who were found to have had exam and coursework for an online chemistry class done by an athletics department tutor during the 2018-19 academic year. This wasn’t isolated to one assignment or test. The cheating went on for much, if not all, of the year.

There is much hand-wringing on how the penalties will impact the teams, particularly football, which opened its season Aug. 31 in New Orleans against the University of Louisiana.

Far less attention appears to be devoted to the implications the scandal has on the university’s academic reputation.

While it’s difficult to ascertain if the athletes were treated differently than other students — MSU spokesman Sid Salter insists that the university draws no distinction between athletes and non-athletes when it comes to violation of the university’s honor code — the episode does shed some light on how the university generally regards these violations.

MSU may have a zero tolerance policy on some issues.

Sadly, academic fraud is not among them.

Since 2007-08, the university has expelled just two students for violation of its honor code — one was a Ph.D. student who plagiarized work on a dissertation, the other was found to have violated the honor code on more than one occasion. Over that period, there have been hundreds of students who have been determined to have violated the honor code. That just two students have been expelled is a statistical out-lier.

You could justify the university’s restraint in withholding the ultimate punishment in many, perhaps most, cases. Not all transgressions are created equal and the punishment should fit the crime.

The university’s honor code characterizes academic misconduct in seven categories: cheating, fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, complicity, academic fraud and violation of rules.

All of these are serious offenses, to be sure, but nothing strikes at the heart of academic integrity worse than fraud: It is a premeditated, calculated effort. It’s not a matter of a momentary lapse of judgment or decision made in a panicked state. It’s not a spur of the moment decision.

In its honor code, the university defines academic fraud as “the deliberate effort to deceive and is distinguished from an honest mistake and honest differences in judgment or interpretation.”

We don’t see any other way to classify this particular scandal; it is a betrayal of the highest degree.

Based on university records, from 2016 to 2018 there were 223 students found to have committed academic fraud. While surely some punishment was levied in these cases, as far as can be determined, not a single one of those students were expelled.

So, while folks are worrying about the possibility of a linebacker being out of the lineup Saturday, the broader implications of the scandal in exposing the university’s milquetoast honor code should be a much greater concern to anyone who takes seriously the university’s greater mission.

Online: https://www.dispatch.com

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Aug. 27

The Vicksburg Post on how Isaac Newton’s laws of physics can apply to voter participation:

When it comes to politics and elections, there is only so much analysis that can be done to understand how voters vote, why candidates campaign the way they do, and how the results become the results.

There are polls and trackers to help forecast an outcome. There are marketing strategies put together to get the message out. And then, on election day, all of that is thrown completely out the window and left to the voters — an amazingly diverse group of people, with their own views, their own opinions and their own agenda.

For generations, there have been those who have analyzed elections, broken down results and compared those to the pre-election polls and forecasting methods. Complete courses of study have been dedicated to this, earning those who study politics degrees and doctorates, but it still comes down to the voter.

We could even have a little fun and apply the fundamentals of physics to elections.

Sir Isaac Newton, in 1686, compiled and presented his three laws of motion — the basics of physics — in the “Principia Mathematica Philosophiae Naturalis.” And of those three laws, there are two that could be applied to elections, voting and politics.

The first law of motion is, “every object persists in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed on it.”

In today’s terms, an object will either remain sitting unless something — or someone — moves it and an object, when in motion, will continue in a straight line until something — or someone — changes its direction.

For voters, they are that “someone.” With votes that are cast — or those not cast by voters too careless to take part in the process — voters have the chance to move the process along or change the course.

Voters, when pooled together in big enough numbers, can force action by their elected officials. Or, if the action is not to their liking, they can vote to change the direction of their leadership, oftentimes changing those in leadership.

While the second law of motion is interesting, not even our wordsmiths and creative thinking could use it to apply to elections, but the third can be used.

The third law of motion states, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Elections have consequences, and unfortunately, those are not often immediately felt or understood. It takes months, years even, to realize a vote cast for someone was the right or wrong decision.

But, that is the beauty of elections.

In our country, we have the right to change the course of our community, our state and our nation, with a simple vote. We can signal to our elected leaders that their decisions have consequences and that we — if needed — can compel change. As voters, if needed, we are the “equal and opposite reaction” to our leaders.

Voters hold the power, whether or not elected leaders understand or appreciate that power.

Every few years, whether it is local elections or those held at the state or national level, registered voters have the chance to apply the theories and laws founded by Sir Isaac Newton 333 years ago and change our direction. Don’t miss the chance.

Online: https://www.vicksburgpost.com

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