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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: 333180

Reported Deaths: 7502
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22901279
Hinds22780438
Harrison19569326
Rankin14851287
Jackson14342251
Madison10692227
Lee10437179
Jones8746169
Forrest8210157
Lauderdale7561243
Lowndes6790150
Lamar669688
Lafayette6459124
Washington5516139
Pearl River4915149
Bolivar4909134
Oktibbeha478498
Panola4723112
Marshall4654106
Warren4640127
Pontotoc440473
Monroe4255137
Union425379
Neshoba4182180
Lincoln4098115
Hancock405088
Leflore3565125
Pike3530112
Tate349588
Alcorn343974
Sunflower343093
Adams333387
Scott331775
Yazoo331173
Simpson314890
Copiah313867
Itawamba310180
Coahoma308785
Tippah298868
Prentiss292963
Covington282483
Marion279580
Leake278475
Wayne270743
Grenada266388
George261651
Newton256664
Tishomingo236869
Winston235584
Jasper226148
Attala220873
Chickasaw216360
Stone210237
Holmes195674
Clay192254
Clarke182080
Tallahatchie181742
Calhoun177532
Smith175935
Yalobusha169440
Walthall141548
Lawrence137726
Greene135734
Amite132843
Noxubee131635
Perry131038
Montgomery130944
Carroll124531
Webster117532
Jefferson Davis113334
Tunica111127
Benton104625
Claiborne104331
Kemper100729
Humphreys99133
Franklin85923
Quitman83519
Choctaw81319
Wilkinson74632
Jefferson69728
Sharkey51518
Issaquena1696
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 570667

Reported Deaths: 11483
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson834821584
Mobile45819855
Madison36785532
Tuscaloosa26757465
Shelby26612255
Montgomery25739624
Baldwin23810325
Lee16801181
Calhoun15130332
Morgan14941289
Etowah14662368
Marshall12806235
Houston11515292
Elmore10654217
St. Clair10521251
Limestone10472158
Cullman10257204
Lauderdale9991253
DeKalb9298191
Talladega8739187
Walker7594286
Autauga7419113
Jackson7269117
Blount7184139
Colbert6583142
Coffee6045131
Dale5326117
Russell465842
Chilton4645117
Covington4579125
Franklin444381
Tallapoosa4379157
Escambia420082
Chambers3852125
Dallas3688163
Clarke364462
Marion3380106
Pike324879
Lawrence3192101
Winston291072
Bibb280165
Geneva271583
Marengo258567
Barbour243461
Pickens239162
Butler236172
Hale231878
Fayette224564
Henry205145
Randolph194944
Cherokee193948
Monroe192141
Washington177139
Macon167552
Crenshaw164458
Clay162559
Cleburne159145
Lamar149538
Lowndes144354
Wilcox129231
Bullock125642
Conecuh118130
Coosa116029
Perry109928
Sumter108032
Greene97836
Choctaw63825
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