Mississippi seeks to dismiss lawsuit on elections amid COVID

Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson

Top officials in Mississippi are asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks to remove some limitations from the state’s absentee voting process amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Posted: Sep 28, 2020 3:24 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Top officials in Mississippi are asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks to remove some limitations from the state's absentee voting process amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Secretary of State Michael Watson and Attorney General Lynn Fitch filed court papers Friday, responding to voting-rights groups that represent Mississippi residents with health conditions that could make in-person voting risky because of COVID-19.


Attorney General Lynn Fitch | Source: Mississippi Office of the Attorney General

Watson and Fitch did not deny that the pandemic is causing health risks. But the two Republicans repeatedly denied other assertions made by attorneys from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Mississippi requires absentee ballot applications to be notarized. The state also requires most people to provide an excuse to vote absentee, such as being out of town on Election Day.

The plaintiffs are asking a judge to block those two requirements, saying those are unconstitutional. They are also asking a judge to provide a clear process for what happens when election officials say they see inconsistencies in a voter’s signature.

“Defendants admit only that Mississippi state laws establishing who is eligible to vote by absentee ballot speak for themselves,” wrote a state attorney representing Watson and Fitch.

The lawsuit was filed in August on behalf of three Mississippi residents, the League of Women Voters of Mississippi and the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP. It says Mississippi election laws could force people to choose between their health and their constitutional right to vote. It also says Watson and Fitch “have failed to take necessary steps to protect Mississippi voters’ fundamental right to vote despite the public health risks of voting in person during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Mississippi does not allow widespread early voting. Instead, state law says absentee voting is available to anyone 65 or older, or to 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 in federal court is similar to one filed in state court by the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi and the Mississippi Center for Justice, which was also brought against Watson.

The state court lawsuit says Mississippi’s absentee voting law is confusing and could be applied inconsistently during the pandemic. A judge issued a statewide declaration Sept. 2 that would allow people to vote absentee if they have health conditions that could put them in extra danger because of COVID-19. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed that decision Sept. 18, ruling that: "Having a preexisting condition that puts a voter at a higher risk does not automatically create a temporary disability for absentee-voting purposes."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 149940

Reported Deaths: 3779
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10097104
Hinds9984199
Harrison7116110
Jackson6360119
Rankin5588103
Lee509195
Madison4799106
Forrest383186
Jones357688
Lauderdale3496147
Lafayette326051
Washington3179107
Lamar291550
Oktibbeha245462
Bolivar241384
Lowndes237364
Panola222350
Neshoba2206118
Marshall217250
Leflore205590
Pontotoc199928
Monroe198177
Sunflower191655
Lincoln190865
Warren176857
Tate169851
Union167325
Copiah164140
Pike162658
Yazoo156039
Scott154829
Itawamba152935
Pearl River152167
Alcorn151328
Coahoma150543
Simpson148353
Prentiss146230
Adams141950
Grenada140945
Leake134944
Holmes130861
George125524
Tippah125230
Covington123439
Winston122224
Hancock121139
Wayne117923
Marion116646
Attala113034
Tishomingo109442
Chickasaw107632
Newton105629
Tallahatchie97027
Clay91327
Clarke90553
Jasper82822
Stone77014
Walthall76928
Calhoun75513
Montgomery74525
Carroll72415
Lawrence71814
Smith71316
Yalobusha71327
Noxubee71017
Perry67026
Tunica61019
Greene60322
Claiborne58616
Jefferson Davis57017
Amite54014
Humphreys53619
Benton49318
Quitman4927
Webster44314
Kemper43618
Wilkinson39822
Jefferson35211
Franklin3395
Choctaw3357
Sharkey30917
Issaquena1164
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 244993

Reported Deaths: 3572
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson32314500
Mobile19859361
Madison13223148
Tuscaloosa13049154
Montgomery12342236
Shelby1031577
Baldwin873398
Lee775766
Morgan662650
Calhoun6301119
Etowah627666
Marshall627255
Houston525638
DeKalb485536
Cullman439442
Limestone425145
St. Clair419555
Lauderdale407854
Elmore406864
Walker3657111
Talladega351454
Jackson320423
Colbert311942
Blount292240
Autauga273542
Franklin252633
Coffee245415
Dale232654
Dallas226232
Chilton223438
Russell22193
Covington218934
Escambia198331
Chambers176850
Tallapoosa176391
Pike158614
Clarke158419
Marion140236
Winston133023
Lawrence127936
Pickens123518
Geneva12218
Marengo121524
Bibb117917
Barbour117310
Butler116541
Randolph102921
Cherokee102224
Hale97031
Clay91924
Fayette91616
Washington91219
Henry8546
Lowndes79929
Monroe78911
Cleburne77214
Macon73722
Crenshaw71130
Bullock69619
Perry6886
Conecuh68414
Lamar6798
Wilcox63518
Sumter58122
Greene42618
Choctaw42213
Coosa3444
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