Mississippi absentee ballot rules challenged amid pandemic

MGN Online

Voting rights groups filed papers Thursday asking a federal judge to temporarily lift some limitations in Mississippi’s absentee voting process.

Posted: Sep 17, 2020 4:39 PM
Updated: Sep 17, 2020 4:46 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Voting rights groups filed papers Thursday asking a federal judge to temporarily lift some limitations in Mississippi’s absentee voting process. They said doing so would ease some safety concerns during the coronavirus pandemic.

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 groups are asking a judge to block those two requirements, which they say 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.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Southern Poverty Law Center made the new request Thursday in a lawsuit they originally filed Aug. 27 on behalf of three Mississippi residents, the League of Women Voters of Mississippi and the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP.

The lawsuit says Mississippi election laws could force people to choose between their health and their constitutional right to vote. It also says that the defendants — Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson and Attorney General Lynn 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.”

Jennifer Nwachukwu, an attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement Thursday that Watson and Fitch need to ensure that Mississippi residents can vote safely.

“These restrictions are excessively burdensome on the constitutional right to vote, and will affect communities of color, who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and therefore need an effective and fair way to vote by absentee ballot," Nwachukwu said.

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 Aug. 11 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. State officials have asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to reverse that decision.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 255125

Reported Deaths: 5574
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17197175
Hinds16280322
Harrison13502193
Rankin10749211
Jackson10407183
Lee8819141
Madison8262162
Jones6375110
Forrest5992119
Lauderdale5873180
Lowndes5381116
Lafayette496692
Lamar487565
Washington4800123
Bolivar3978108
Oktibbeha393880
Panola370779
Pontotoc365353
Monroe3543105
Warren353498
Union344760
Marshall342665
Neshoba3383152
Pearl River329799
Leflore3004105
Lincoln297685
Sunflower284969
Hancock273459
Tate272462
Alcorn264053
Pike263577
Itawamba262959
Scott246645
Yazoo245955
Prentiss245652
Copiah241949
Tippah241750
Simpson235767
Coahoma233754
Leake231164
Grenada218470
Covington213071
Marion212072
Adams205870
Wayne201331
Winston200564
George199338
Attala193759
Newton192842
Tishomingo186359
Chickasaw183944
Jasper170835
Holmes168767
Clay159433
Stone143621
Tallahatchie141034
Clarke138960
Calhoun136121
Smith120823
Yalobusha117034
Walthall112336
Noxubee110522
Greene110229
Montgomery109634
Carroll104521
Lawrence102617
Perry102231
Amite98025
Webster92424
Tunica86721
Claiborne86625
Jefferson Davis84825
Humphreys83024
Benton81823
Kemper77220
Quitman6918
Franklin66615
Choctaw60513
Wilkinson58425
Jefferson54319
Sharkey43017
Issaquena1596
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 424028

Reported Deaths: 6121
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson62258921
Mobile30381549
Madison27160186
Tuscaloosa20779267
Montgomery19049305
Shelby18572114
Baldwin16346182
Lee12515101
Morgan12260113
Etowah11757168
Calhoun11161200
Marshall10199107
Houston8630148
Cullman8036105
Limestone802874
Elmore7849101
DeKalb768897
Lauderdale760083
St. Clair7555120
Talladega6180108
Walker5903174
Jackson581341
Colbert533573
Blount530883
Autauga519855
Coffee443956
Dale398581
Franklin367548
Chilton337665
Russell331710
Covington327768
Escambia319342
Dallas303396
Chambers284269
Clarke282133
Tallapoosa2617107
Pike249429
Marion246250
Lawrence244247
Winston227335
Bibb216247
Geneva202535
Marengo199729
Pickens197031
Hale176442
Barbour173036
Butler170258
Fayette169026
Cherokee160530
Henry154421
Monroe145617
Randolph140735
Washington137726
Clay126745
Crenshaw119544
Lamar118219
Cleburne117723
Macon115035
Lowndes110735
Wilcox103121
Bullock99128
Perry97719
Conecuh94420
Sumter89126
Greene76123
Coosa60515
Choctaw51524
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