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Judge: Absentee voting OK with pre-existing health issues

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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: 263023

Reported Deaths: 5752
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17675191
Hinds16813331
Harrison14224204
Rankin11167219
Jackson10839190
Lee9050144
Madison8568168
Jones6668114
Forrest6177124
Lauderdale6097192
Lowndes5518120
Lafayette516298
Lamar503965
Washington4923125
Bolivar4104109
Oktibbeha405982
Panola384881
Pontotoc376258
Warren3674103
Monroe3671108
Union355663
Marshall355270
Neshoba3485154
Pearl River3468105
Leflore3111109
Lincoln305688
Hancock291862
Sunflower291475
Tate279662
Alcorn272354
Pike268981
Itawamba268063
Scott259648
Yazoo255256
Prentiss252553
Tippah249250
Copiah249049
Coahoma248054
Simpson242171
Leake237367
Grenada223272
Marion222073
Covington219973
Adams213671
Wayne212634
Winston207371
George204339
Newton199046
Attala196963
Tishomingo194161
Chickasaw189044
Jasper179538
Holmes171768
Clay165837
Tallahatchie156235
Stone151425
Clarke147262
Calhoun140822
Smith129226
Yalobusha122034
Walthall114337
Greene113529
Noxubee112926
Montgomery111636
Carroll106622
Lawrence106517
Perry104531
Amite101426
Webster96124
Tunica88821
Claiborne88325
Jefferson Davis88329
Benton85623
Humphreys84624
Kemper80520
Quitman7089
Franklin69917
Choctaw63213
Wilkinson59825
Jefferson56821
Sharkey45117
Issaquena1606
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 439442

Reported Deaths: 6657
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson644371007
Mobile31435569
Madison28158217
Tuscaloosa21492275
Montgomery19873332
Shelby19248132
Baldwin17128189
Lee13137107
Morgan12594142
Etowah12070181
Calhoun11496206
Marshall10420123
Houston8988164
Limestone832081
Cullman8257124
Elmore8183110
DeKalb7871107
Lauderdale7847107
St. Clair7808130
Talladega6445112
Walker6028183
Jackson599145
Colbert548694
Blount546286
Autauga535862
Coffee460764
Dale409685
Franklin374150
Russell354215
Chilton344373
Covington338580
Escambia334544
Tallapoosa3143109
Dallas312996
Chambers303470
Clarke298036
Pike262431
Lawrence253355
Marion253161
Winston233342
Bibb222348
Geneva210247
Marengo208231
Pickens199531
Hale184944
Barbour180538
Fayette177829
Butler173160
Cherokee165131
Henry159525
Monroe152021
Randolph145536
Washington141727
Clay129746
Crenshaw123745
Macon121937
Cleburne121525
Lamar119922
Lowndes114836
Wilcox107922
Bullock103328
Perry99918
Conecuh97822
Sumter90527
Greene77923
Coosa63418
Choctaw51924
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