Judge: Absentee voting OK with pre-existing health issues

MGN Online

A Mississippi judge has ruled voters with health conditions that might make them vulnerable to COVID-19 must be allowed to vote by absentee ballot.

Posted: Sep 3, 2020 11:52 AM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi voters with health conditions that might make them vulnerable to COVID-19 must be allowed to vote by absentee ballot, a state court judge has ruled.

However, the judge rejected an argument that people without pre-existing conditions should be allowed to vote absentee if they are following public health guidelines to avoid large social gatherings.

Hinds County Chancery Judge Denise Owens handed down the order Wednesday and it applies statewide.

It was not immediately clear whether Secretary of State Michael Watson would appeal the order. A spokeswoman said his office would issue a statement sometime Thursday.

Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi and the Mississippi Center for Justice filed the suit Aug. 11 against Watson, who is the state’s top elections officer, and against circuit clerks in Hinds and Rankin counties, who oversee elections in those places. The lawsuit was filed in Hinds County because it’s home to the seat of state government.

The lawsuit said Mississippi’s absentee voting law is confusing and could be applied inconsistently during the coronavirus pandemic. It sought a statewide declaration that would allow absentee voting by people with health conditions that could put them in extra danger because of the highly contagious virus. Plaintiffs include people who have had cancer or who have other conditions, including lupus and asthma.

“We are certainly pleased that the judge has recognized the danger that in-person voting poses for people with pre-existing conditions, and we think she is right to hold that under Mississippi law they are permitted to vote absentee,” Mississippi Center for Justice attorney Rob McDuff said Thursday.

McDuff said plaintiffs will ask a higher court to overturn the part of Owens' order that went against them.

Other groups filed a similar lawsuit Aug. 27 in federal court.

Mississippi does not allow widespread early voting. Instead, state law says absentee voting is available to anyone who is 65 or older, or for voters of any age who are permanently disabled or will be out of their home county on election day. People who have to work on election day when the polls are open also are allowed to vote absentee.

Legislators tweaked the law this year with provisions that expire at the end of 2020. Those allow absentee voting by someone with a temporary or permanent disability that may include “a physician-imposed quarantine due to COVID-19” or by a person who is “caring for a dependent that is under a physician-imposed quarantine due to COVID-19.”

The lawsuit noted that Watson said in news release in May that he and his office “do not believe voters should have to choose between casting a ballot and risking their own health.” But it also points out that Watson told legislators in June that local election officials are smart enough to figure out which people should be given mail-in absentee ballots. Watson made both statements before legislators made the temporary change to the law.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 501652

Reported Deaths: 10024
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34353540
DeSoto32162408
Hinds31977631
Jackson24508383
Rankin22015390
Lee15596235
Madison14597280
Jones13867243
Forrest13461252
Lauderdale11998317
Lowndes11065188
Lamar10522136
Pearl River9547237
Lafayette8557140
Hancock7740127
Washington7443160
Oktibbeha7147133
Monroe6787178
Warren6706176
Pontotoc6677104
Neshoba6642206
Panola6542131
Marshall6476135
Bolivar6323150
Union605794
Pike5824152
Alcorn5676102
Lincoln5439135
George497479
Scott473098
Tippah470381
Prentiss469182
Leflore4663144
Itawamba4640105
Adams4592119
Tate4592111
Copiah448792
Simpson4448116
Yazoo444887
Wayne440072
Covington429094
Sunflower4240105
Marion4232108
Coahoma4168107
Leake408688
Newton381779
Grenada3711108
Stone360664
Tishomingo360092
Attala331789
Jasper330165
Winston314691
Clay308977
Chickasaw301067
Clarke292594
Calhoun279447
Holmes267987
Smith264150
Yalobusha234547
Tallahatchie228251
Greene219449
Walthall218764
Lawrence213140
Perry205956
Amite205256
Webster203046
Noxubee186840
Montgomery179657
Jefferson Davis172243
Carroll169338
Tunica160039
Benton149239
Kemper141941
Choctaw133326
Claiborne132837
Humphreys129638
Franklin120328
Quitman106528
Wilkinson105139
Jefferson94734
Sharkey64220
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 820312

Reported Deaths: 15407
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1148731924
Mobile726221339
Madison52362697
Shelby37640350
Baldwin37266552
Tuscaloosa35120612
Montgomery34123740
Lee23540246
Calhoun22236488
Morgan20958378
Etowah19838500
Marshall18381304
Houston17394412
St. Clair16078339
Cullman15468293
Limestone15354199
Elmore15271286
Lauderdale14323295
Talladega13851283
DeKalb12664261
Walker11221370
Blount10207176
Autauga10048148
Jackson9877184
Coffee9211191
Dale8904185
Colbert8877201
Tallapoosa7093198
Escambia6778134
Covington6715183
Chilton6648162
Russell637559
Franklin5969105
Chambers5612142
Marion5010127
Dallas4979200
Pike4796106
Clarke475884
Geneva4575127
Winston4522103
Lawrence4327117
Bibb425386
Barbour357876
Marengo338390
Monroe331664
Randolph329864
Butler326796
Pickens316584
Henry312866
Hale311688
Cherokee302960
Fayette294180
Washington251651
Cleburne247760
Crenshaw245375
Clay243368
Macon234863
Lamar224847
Conecuh186353
Coosa180340
Lowndes175464
Wilcox168939
Bullock151744
Perry138940
Sumter133238
Greene126744
Choctaw88527
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