JACKSON – Mississippi lawmakers didn’t set any new boundaries to the electoral process during its recently concluded session, but that state already had some of the toughest electoral laws in the US
Widespread early voting? Not in Mississippi. This state has a limited number of reasons for mailing ballot papers.
Some states have drop boxes that early voters can use to cast their ballots. There are no drop boxes in Mississippi, which means people returning postal ballot papers must grapple with the uncertainties surrounding the U.S. Postal Service.
Mississippi requires that postal voting requests be notarized. Critics say this is a burden on students and others who will be out of town on election day because they have to find a notary.
Republican Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann, who had served three terms as State Secretary, said in an interview at the end of the legislative term that he would oppose any effort to remove the notarial requirement for postal voting applications.
“One of the things that aren’t onerous is harvesting ballot papers,” said Hosemann. This is the practice of collecting and returning postal ballot papers for multiple people.
Some states value postal voting and automatically send ballots to people who put themselves on a permanent postal voting list. Mississippi doesn’t, and Republicans who control the legislation are unlikely to change that.
Current Secretary of State, Republican Michael Watson, said during an interview on WLOX-TV on March 26th that he opposed any move by the federal government to set new rules for voter registration or postal voting.
“Think of all these ‘bright’ college students who are automatically enrolled to vote whether they like it or not,” said Watson, and then they get this postal ballot that they didn’t even know was coming because they didn’t know they signed up to vote. You have an uninformed citizen who may not be prepared and ready to vote, automatically forced on them, “Hey, go make a choice.” And our country will pay for these decisions. “
Watson’s comments have received widespread criticism, including from Ray Mabus, the former Democratic governor of Mississippi, who replied on Twitter: “His topics of conversation are from the 1950s. Easily updated. Literacy tests anyone? “
Literacy tests were banned by the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. The tests could include impossible questions like the number of bubbles in a bar of soap and were among the discriminatory measures Mississippi and other southern states have taken to suppress black voices.
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A Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Hester Jackson McCray of Horn Lake, announced at the end of the legislature that she was trying to get Mississippi voters to decide whether to vote early. She supports an initiative that enables people to vote at least 10 days before an election in the offices of district or municipality clerks and at other qualified polling stations.
Current Mississippi law states that absenteeism or voters of any age who are permanently disabled or will not be in their home country on election day is allowed to vote by mail. People who are required to work on election day when the polls are open are also allowed to vote absent.
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Legislators amended the law in 2020 with temporary provisions to allow postal voting by someone with a temporary or permanent disability who may include “a doctor-imposed quarantine due to COVID-19”, or by a person who taking care of someone in these circumstances.
Getting an initiative for a nationwide vote is a challenge. The petitioners must collect more than 100,000 signatures from registered voters. It is worth noting that most initiative organizers do not get enough signatures. And even if the petition efforts are successful and an initiative comes to a vote, there is another great danger. Legislators are allowed to put another proposal dealing with the same issue on the same ballot – and that can create confusion among voters.