/Mississippi poised to break absentee voting record in 2020 election

Mississippi poised to break absentee voting record in 2020 election

According to the secretary-of-state’s office, 58,796 Mississippians had voted absentee as of Sunday, three weeks before Election Day. 91,474 ballots had been requested. A total of 102 915 Mississippians absentee voted in the 2016 presidential election. Mississippi Today was told by circuit clerks from several high-populated counties that absentee voter numbers were higher than ever in 2020. This year saw a presidential election, and a closely contested U.S. Senate race between Republican Senator Cindy Hyde Smith and Democrat Mike Espy. High absentee voting numbers usually indicate high in-person voter participation on election day. Connie Ladner, Harrison County Circuit Clerk, said that early voters in the most populous Gulf Coast county are “extremely heavy”. “We started on Sept. 21 and have not stopped since. “I’ve seen a lot of presidential elections and I’ve never witnessed an absentee turnout as this.” Ladner stated that her county had received 8,398 absentee ballots as of Tuesday. This compares to the 5,379 total for the 45 day absentee voting period in 2016. Long lines formed outside the Hinds County Circuit Clerk’s Office, which is the most populous county of the state and a stronghold for Democrats. Zach Wallace, Hinds County Circuit Clerk, told Mississippi Today that about 5,000 people had already voted absentee. Hinds County received 5,309 votes absentee in the 2016 presidential election. As many voters expressed safety concerns during the COVID-19 epidemic, early voting is one of the most hot political issues in 2020. According to the Democracy Initiative, Mississippi is the only state that does not allow all voters to vote early and without being exposed to COVID-19 at the polls. READ MORE: “Practices intended to suppress the vote.” Mississippi is the only state that does not allow all citizens to vote early during a pandemic. Mississippi legislators expanded early voting to only those in quarantine, or who care for someone in quarantine, earlier this year in order to make provisions for the pandemic. Although lawsuits were filed in an attempt to increase early voting opportunities for Mississippi, they have not been successful. Mississippi had some the strictest early voting laws in America, even before the pandemic. Only those who will be out of their home on Election Day, people over 65, and persons with disabilities can vote absentee in person or via mail. However, state law does not require that anyone who wants to vote early for reasons other than being away from home on Election Day, provide proof of their travel plans. Union County Circuit Clerk Phyllis Stanford said, “I tell them they can vote if they have ID.” Ladner, Harrison County circuit clerk, said that they told them they must comply with absentee voting requirements with a valid reason. “We refer them the county website, which lists the reasons and they call back and tell us why,” Ladner, the Harrison County circuit clerk, said. “We tell them they have to comply for absentee voting with a valid reason.” However, state law prohibits circuit clerks from mailing a mail-in ballot because the voter claims they will not be home on Election Day. The circuit clerk would typically tell the person to come by their office before Election Day to vote. Mail-in ballots can only be sent to residents or registered voters who live in the state. Both the ballot application and ballot would need to be notarized in this situation. A mail-in ballot can be sent to people with temporary or permanent disabilities and their caregivers in certain cases. Over 65-year-olds can request a mail ballot or register to vote in person. Other, smaller groups of early voters exist, including people whose jobs prevent them from voting on Election Day and members of the U.S. House or Senate and their staff. READ MORE: The leaders of the legislative branch have stated again that they won’t expand early voting in the event of a pandemic. Ladner stated that she believes the absentee turnout is driven by interest in the election more than the COVID-19 Pandemic. Ladner stated that while some might be responsible for the pandemic, she believes it is this election. She said that they have seen and heard many people come in to vote absentee. “We have people who are coming in to vote absentee for the first time…. With the over 65 crowd that is because of COVID-19 but we also have students, people that live out of town and a large turnout from the military.” Ladner stated that 5,749 of the 8,398 Harrison County absentee votes have been cast in person and the remainder are mail-in. She stated that her office sends out 200 to 300 mail-in ballots per day. To count mail-in ballots, they must be received by November 3, at the latest. Ladner stated that a man recently came in to vote absentee on his 102nd Birthday. As of Tuesday, Union County, Northeast Mississippi had 484 absentee voters, compared with 500 during the entire 2016 early voting period. The Mississippi Delta’s Quitman County, which is sparsely populated, may not be experiencing an influx of early voters. According to Brenda A. Wiggs, Quitman County Circuit Clerk, “Compared to other presidential election years it’s been slow.” “We currently have less than 200 – probably about 175 – but we typically get around 900. Wiggs said, “They were telling me to expect more than usual this year – they were figuring around 175 – but there’s no chance we’ll do it at this pace.” Wiggs stated, “I don’t know why. Other than the fact that there are no local elections and that you don’t have ballot shoppers going around calling people,” Wiggs added. Wiggs noted that most absentee voters vote in person at the clerk’s offices due to the difficulty in getting a mail in ballot notarized. Wiggs stated that she will provide absentee ballots for anyone “with a legitimate, legal reason” but it is difficult to prove this. They can lie to you – they lie like dogs all the time – but I haven’t had any come in that I didn’t question. Wiggs stated that one man asked for a ballot due to COVID-19. She told him that this was not an acceptable excuse, unless a doctor has diagnosed him with it. She said that the man was 65 years old, so he had a valid reason.