On Wednesday, Hinds County Chancery Judge Denise Owens ruled that voters with pre-existing conditions that cause COVID-19 to present a greater risk of severe illness or death can vote by absentee during the pandemic to the extent that such pre-existing conditions interfere with or limits a person’s daily activities.
The ruling did not allow voters who merely wanted to avoid “in-person” contact to vote absentee.
The lawsuit was filed against Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson, in his official capacity, and was backed by the ACLU of Mississippi with various plaintiffs listed.
The ACLU deemed the ruling a victory, but said in a tweet, “the court should have gone further and ruled that ALL eligible voters following public health guidance have a right to vote by absentee ballot.”
The court should have gone further and ruled that ALL eligible voters following public health guidance have a right to vote by absentee ballot — but this remains an important victory.
— ACLU (@ACLU) September 3, 2020
The Mississippi Legislature had previously passed new legislation in the 2020 session adding COVID-19 patients under physician-imposed quarantine, or anyone caring for a dependent who is such a patient, as eligible to vote absentee.
Judge Owens denied a request that would have permitted any voters to vote absentee who merely wanted to avoid in-person gatherings. However, the ruling did grant absentee voters to those voters where a physician has recommended they avoid public gatherings due to the risk of contracting COVID-19.
Three other portions of the lawsuit were denied by Judge Owens. The court did not order the Secretary of State to instruct county election officials on absentee voting provisions and educating the public on their right to vote by absentee ballot. It also denied the request to pay for the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees and for costs associated with the lawsuit.
Read the order below.
Y’all Politics has sought comment from Secretary Watson and other state leaders. This story will be updated accordingly.
UPDATE – 9/3/20 – 12:30pm:
Y’all Politics received this statement from the Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson Thursday afternoon:
“Our office received and reviewed Chancellor Owens’ ruling, and we are in the process of appealing it to the Mississippi Supreme Court. The appeal is an effort to receive clarification for our Circuit Clerks, so they know exactly what does and does not equate to a “temporary disability” under the statute. The goal is to make sure the application of the term is consistent for every Mississippi voter.”