As this pandemic continues to wreck the U.S. economy with social distancing and shelter-in-place mandates as the new norm, attention has turned to its possible effects on the upcoming November election and what it means for potential voter turnout.
Five states currently vote entirely by mail. The majority of states have early voting and allow for mail-in “no-excuse” absentee voting. Sixteen states, including Mississippi, limit mail-in ballots to excused “absentee voting.” This means that voters must declare a reason for their absence on Election Day, or it could mean that they qualify for special assistance such as being over a certain age or have a physical disability.
The expansion of mail-in voting is now being considered by those states that have varying degrees of restrictions in place on the practice.
Congressional Democrats are filing bills to force states to allow mail-in ballots for the November elections while Republicans, for the most part, are speaking out against it. Most notably, President Donald Trump has called it “corrupt” and tweeted recently, “Mail in ballots substantially increases the risk of crime and VOTER FRAUD!”
Mail in ballots substantially increases the risk of crime and VOTER FRAUD!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 12, 2020
Make no mistake. Voter fraud exists in Mississippi even with the safeguards the state has in place. Over the last 15 years, Y’all Politics has regularly documented voter fraud incidents. Those convictions typically get very little press attention.
Roughly 4 to 5 percent of votes cast in an election in Mississippi are absentee ballots. This equates to upwards of 50,000 votes in a General Election with the Presidential race at the top of the ticket as it was in 2016 when nearly 1.2 million Mississippians went to the polls.
A Congressional runoff in the Second District and a special election to fill a vacant state House seat have already been rescheduled as a result of the pandemic. Concerns over the health of poll workers, staff and election commissioners were taken into account by the Governor and Secretary of State.
However, Governor Tate Reeves has stated on multiple occasions in his now daily press conferences that he does not see the need to address potential General Election changes at this juncture, meaning in-person voting will still be the primary method for Mississippians to cast their ballots in November unless they qualify for an absentee ballot.
Mississippi Republican Party chairman Lucien Smith agrees.
“The primary focus now is public health and safety, and rightfully so,” Smith told Y’all Politics. “Now isn’t the time to discuss major changes to our electoral system for an election more than six months away. As always, I support ensuring that Mississippi voters be able to safely cast their ballots and have them accurately counted.”
Bobby Moak, chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party, thinks the state should move to expand mail-in voting now using similar procedures already in place for absentee voting.
“Mississippi needs to take the process they have in place currently for absentee voting to expand and modify that for general election mail-in voting procedures,” Moak told Y’all Politics.
Mississippi’s chief elections officer, Secretary of State Michael Watson, is not known to support voting by mail. He says his office is reviewing options and will make a recommendation, if need be, for legislative action.
“We’ve been studying the right approach and our office has asked for input from our Circuit Clerks and Elections Commissioners,” Watson told Y’all Politics. “We’re a bottom-up state, meaning our elections are handled at the local level, so I did not want to make a decision without asking those on the frontlines of our election operations for their thoughts and ideas. Ultimately, any proposed statutory changes, if needed, would require legislative action, so we’ll offer our plans to them once finalized.”
UPDATE: Following the initial run of this article, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mike Espy came out in support of “universal no-excuse early voting.”
We need universal no-excuse early voting to ensure that Mississipians’ voices are heard on Election Day. https://t.co/3YjDqCnFe2
— Mike Espy (@MikeEspyMS) April 14, 2020