/Mississippians file lawsuit to expand voting access during pandemic

Mississippians file lawsuit to expand voting access during pandemic

While most states allow early voting by mail or in person, Mississippi voters have to give an excuse. For example, if they are away for the election, this can be used as an excuse. Mississippi is one of the most difficult states in the country to vote early due to the existing law. Many people believed that Mississippi legislators did not do enough to make it easier to vote during the coronavirus pandemic. This was in contrast to other states across the country. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, argues that Mississippians should be able to vote absentee because of the language in a June law. Vangela M. Wade (CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice) stated in a press release that Mississippi has been a constant COVID-19 hotspot with increasing numbers of deaths and infections. “Any requirement that citizens vote at polling places would be a disregard for the health and well-being of their communities would lead to constructive disenfranchisement of many thousands,” the legislation has been signed by Gov. Tate Reeves stated that anyone who is under a quarantine imposed by a physician related to the coronavirus, or caring for someone on a quarantine, can vote absentee. The quarantine language is an amendment to the existing law that allows people who have “a temporary or permanently disability” to vote absentee. The lawsuit was filed Tuesday by Tate Reeves, who claimed that Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the State Health Officer, has already imposed quarantine in Mississippi by directing that Mississippians avoid large crowds of more then 10 people at polling places. The lawsuit was filed by the Mississippi Center for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a group of Mississippians concerned for voter safety. It seeks a judicial decision on the law that was passed earlier in the year. The lawsuit states that the legislative history of the expansion clearly shows that a “physician-imposed quintet” does not require the giving of individual guidance by a doctor to a voter. However, it would include guidance from the Mississippi Department of Health (whose director is a physician) and other public health officials and experts who can be considered physicians. This lawsuit is filed at a time when the issue of early voting or voting by mail has become contentious across the country, with President Donald Trump opposing it. The president repeatedly claimed that mail voting is fraudful, but he has not provided proof. The Mississippi presidential election usually has the highest turnout with over one million voters participating. Experts predict a high turnout in Mississippi this year for the election. Former Vice President Joe Biden will challenge Trump. Former secretary of agriculture Mike Espy will challenge Cindy Hyde Smith, the incumbent Republican U.S. Senator. The existing state law allowed voters to vote early for temporary or permanent disabilities. Secretary of State Michael Watson, who oversees state election, stated that at one time, individual county circuit clerks could use existing language to allow people who want to avoid contracting coronavirus to vote earlier. Watson requested an official opinion from Lynn Fitch, the Attorney General’s Office on whether language that refers to the physician-imposed quarantine would prohibit circuit clerks using their discretion to allow people with temporary disabilities to vote early. Fitch has yet to respond to Watson. Fitch has not yet responded to Watson’s request for clarification. This week’s lawsuit claims that Mississippi law should allow Mississippians who want to avoid contracting coronavirus to vote early. Joshua Tom, legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi, stated that “this lawsuit clearly shows that Mississippi law permits absentee voting in an event such as the COVID-19 pandemic.” Editor’s Note: Mississippi Today’s board is chaired by Vangela Wade.