On September 30, Representative Jansen Owen (R) and co-sponsors Rep. Kent McCarty (R) and Shanda Yates (D) filed a bill that would allow for in-person, no excuse absentee voting in the upcoming November election.
Currently in Mississippi, voters are only able to vote absentee if they can provide an excuse or reason for doing so. Those reasons can vary from a medical condition to temporary relocation due to education or military duty.
The new bill filed by Owen would allow any Mississippi voter to vote absentee in-person, not by mail, at their local Circuit Clerk’s office starting October 5, 2020 without requiring any kind of reason or excuse. All absentee voting began September 21, 2020.
The legislation would also allow for Circuit Clerk’s to utilize county voting machines for these absentee voters in their offices, permitting voters to cast their ballot just as if they went to the voting booth on election day.
The Legislature has made some changes to absentee voting in 2020 already. Broader guidelines were passed this year for individuals who were ordered to quarantine or were the caregiver for someone who was quarantined, per doctors orders, in light of COVID-19. However, some members believed that the option for absentee voting should be extended to everyone due to the current global pandemic.
Mississippi has also been the target of recent lawsuits over their absentee voter rules. A Hinds County judge originally ruled with the plaintiffs in the case, that a Mississippian with a pre-existing condition could vote absentee. However, the ruling was appealed by the Secretary of State and eventually reversed by the Mississippi Supreme Court.
“This year’s election is incredibly important and likely to be one of the highest turnout elections in the history of the state. With that said, we are also in the midst of an incredibly dangerous health crisis that is the COVID19 pandemic. This bill aims to reduce the number of voters at the precincts on Election Day, stymy the potential spread of the coronavirus and allow voters the option to vote safely, while keeping the integrity of our election secure,” said Rep. Owen.
Voting through the circuit clerk for any reason still requires a photo ID.
“No citizen should feel as if they have to choose between casting their ballot and staying safe from the coronavirus. This bill provides a safe and secure alternative to Mississippi voters,” said Rep. Owen.
This legislation does not yet have a bill number, but that is likely to happen after the Legislature gavels in at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday for the final two days of the 2020 Mississippi Legislative session.
You can read the bill below: