/State mail-in voting remains ‘most restrictive’ under legislative proposal, senator says

State mail-in voting remains ‘most restrictive’ under legislative proposal, senator says

In light of COVID-19 concerns, legislators have been working on proposals to make voting easier and safer. The compromise proposal reached between Senate and House leaders would require Mississippians to have both their documents notarized if they are absentee voters. “We have some of the most difficult, restrictive and onerous vote-by-mail laws anywhere in the country,” stated Sen. David Blount, a Jackson Democrat, who was not happy with the final result. “We had to amend the laws before we got the coronavirus. They must be changed now. Republicans are reluctant to relax the state’s absentee voter laws as they fear fraud in the mail-in vote process. To make it easier to vote in the event of the coronavirus, most states have amended their early voting laws. Jim Beckett (R-Bruce), House Elections Chair, stated that the final compromise reached, which is most likely to be voted upon by the full Legislature within the next days, will provide safeguards. Additionally, legislators want to increase funding for local governments to support elections. Friday’s House vote approved a bill that would spend $16.5million in federal CARES Act money to help make Mississippi elections more secure during the coronavirus pandemic. About $15 million of this spending would be used to buy optical ballot scanners. Beckett, the author of House Bill 1789, stated that these machines were designed to reduce human contact during elections. He said that some counties already have the equipment, but that only 68 of the state’s 82 counties have them. It would be simpler to clean and disinfect the optical mark reading machines than the direct recording electronic machines that many counties use. The bill also includes $125 per day to hire more than 2000 additional poll workers to assist in cleaning, distancing, and other duties at the polling stations. To help deal with the expected rise in absentee voters, the measure would provide $665,000 for county circuit clerks to temporarily hire additional deputy clerks. The bill would pay $50 more to election commissioners to cover the cost of “pandemic pay” due to increased exposure to COVID-19. Rep. Omeria, D-Laurel, questioned if the bill would allow counties to hire enough people and open more precincts to ensure elections are safe during the pandemic. Beckett stated that the bill was developed after consulting with the secretary-general’s office, which in turn had consulted county leaders. Beckett said that the secretary of state also has received over $4 million in federal funds to assist with election costs. He added that additional legislation would allow counties and local tax dollars to be used to hire more election workers. Others election changes that will be voted upon in the coming days will give those who vote by mail more time for their ballots to reach the local circuit clerk’s offices. People who are sick due to COVID-19, or in quarantine would be able to vote in person or by mail under the proposal. Secretary of State Michael Watson, who oversees elections, stated earlier that he believed existing law would permit circuit clerks to allow people to vote early if they have coronavirus concerns. However, many Democrats believe that this would not be sufficient as the county-specific early voting exception could mean that it is difficult to interpret. Blount stated that Mississippi does not have any provisions to allow voters to vote during the coronavirus pandemic. This is a mistake. This puts Mississippians at Risk.” The vast majority of states, including Mississippi, allow early voting without any excuse. To support this important work, you can make a regular donation to us today as we celebrate our Spring Member Drive.