Secretary of State Michael Watson spoke with Y’all Politics on how his office is handling the issues COVID-19 has created for businesses and voting.
Secretary Watson said his office’s current concern lies with small businesses, many of which do not have the financial resources or savings to withstand such a trying economic time. Watson said the quickest impact to assist businesses that they have seen is the Paycheck Protection Program. The PPP loans were approved by Congress in the CARES Act and have been available at local banks up until now. However, the funding for the program has stalled and Congress is at a standstill on when the next round of funding may come down.
With elections scheduled for 2020, Watson said postponements have had a big impact on their functionality. Many local and state elections have already been moved in order to protect the voters.
“Lord willing, this is going to be in our rear view mirror come November, but we are going to plan and prepare like it’s not,” said Watson.
He said they’re working on potential plans that could help the voting process during a time of social distancing but that won’t have long-term negative effects in the state.
One thing he said that is not likely to happen is mail-in voting. Watson said at this time it is not a financially feasible rout for Mississippi before November and that it also opens the state up to potential fraud. He said at this time only three to four percent of Mississippians vote by mail.
However, Watson said he has become more open to the idea of online voter registration.
Currently in Mississippi you are required to fill out a form and deliver it in person to the Circuit Clerk’s office in your district to be eligible to vote. This has been problematic with public access so restricted during this pandemic. Watson said this is a possible change in the voting process that has been talked about and could be helpful going forward.
“There is an appetite out there for online voter registration. You’ve got thirty-eight, thirty-nine states that already do it,” said Watson. “It is something that I initially thought that is just not a good idea but the more I researched the more I thought this might be a good thing for Mississippi.”
The 2020 Census has been somewhat put on hold during the pandemic but Watson said as of two weeks ago Mississippi was doing their part in self reporting. He said current Census field work has been pushed back a couple of weeks and he does anticipate that to hurt the state.
As of today, the 2020 Census self-response rate in Mississippi is 47.2 percent.