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.

Confirmed Cases: 111322

Reported Deaths: 3202
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7751171
DeSoto663677
Harrison481181
Jackson431978
Rankin380886
Madison371792
Lee341379
Forrest295177
Jones283182
Washington251497
Lafayette241742
Lauderdale2344130
Lamar214938
Bolivar198075
Oktibbeha194654
Neshoba1806111
Lowndes173962
Panola165136
Leflore160086
Sunflower157449
Warren152154
Monroe144872
Pontotoc143519
Pike136455
Lincoln134854
Copiah134636
Marshall132626
Scott123229
Coahoma123136
Grenada120137
Simpson118148
Yazoo117233
Union113925
Holmes113260
Tate112739
Leake112239
Itawamba109024
Pearl River108256
Adams104342
Prentiss101619
Wayne98521
Alcorn95512
George93517
Marion93242
Covington91625
Tippah85120
Newton84227
Chickasaw82024
Tallahatchie81825
Winston81521
Tishomingo79040
Hancock76927
Attala76525
Clarke71448
Clay67221
Jasper66616
Walthall63327
Calhoun60912
Noxubee59516
Smith58116
Claiborne53216
Montgomery52723
Tunica51817
Lawrence49514
Yalobusha48414
Perry48022
Carroll46012
Greene45317
Stone45014
Amite41513
Quitman4136
Humphreys39916
Jefferson Davis39411
Webster36513
Wilkinson32920
Kemper31815
Benton3054
Sharkey27714
Jefferson26310
Franklin2303
Choctaw2036
Issaquena1063
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 153016

Reported Deaths: 2633
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson22400372
Mobile14282314
Tuscaloosa9983132
Montgomery9691196
Madison899992
Shelby703560
Lee643966
Baldwin637567
Marshall426748
Calhoun410259
Etowah402049
Morgan394532
Houston363132
DeKalb316727
Elmore309552
St. Clair279742
Limestone269227
Walker268092
Talladega255034
Cullman225823
Lauderdale206340
Autauga199928
Franklin199131
Jackson199114
Colbert190627
Russell19023
Dallas185227
Blount183823
Chilton180531
Escambia170928
Covington164729
Coffee16409
Dale162551
Pike130212
Chambers127343
Tallapoosa127286
Clarke126716
Marion104229
Butler99840
Barbour9819
Marengo96721
Winston89913
Geneva8337
Pickens80317
Randolph79514
Lawrence79230
Bibb78913
Hale74529
Cherokee71514
Clay70712
Lowndes69927
Bullock63517
Henry6316
Monroe6279
Washington62112
Crenshaw59030
Perry5796
Wilcox55712
Conecuh55413
Fayette54712
Macon52919
Cleburne5247
Sumter46421
Lamar4575
Choctaw38612
Greene33316
Coosa1963
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 70°
Columbus
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 73°
Oxford
Clear
66° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 66°
Starkville
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 64°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather