Mississippi absentee voting continues its record pace in 2020

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Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Othia McMillian fills out her absentee ballot in mid-October at the Hinds County courthouse.

Mississippians continue to vote absentee in record numbers before the Nov. 3 general election, with more than 169,000 ballots requested, compared to less than 111,000 requested in the 2016 election.

Circuit clerks in several highly populated counties have told Mississippi Today that absentee voting amid the COVID-19 pandemic appears higher than ever for 2020, which features a presidential election and a U.S. Senate race between Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy. Some clerks, including in populous Hinds and Harrison counties, have reported long lines outside their offices for people voting weeks before the election.

In 2016, nearly 103,000 absentee ballots were received in Mississippi’s election, and just over 101,000 were accepted. So far this election, nearly 146,000 absentees have been received by circuit clerks. High absentee voting typically portends heavy in-person turnout on Election Day.

Mississippi’s early voting laws are among the most restrictive in the nation, and it’s the only state not to provide all citizens an option to vote early rather than go to crowded precincts on Election Day during the pandemic. Only people who are going to be away from their home area on Election Day, those 65 and older, and people with disabilities are allowed to vote absentee, either in person or by mail.

A federal lawsuit filed against the Mississippi secretary of state this year and settled last week resulted in two new rules for this election.

Voters must receive correspondence from election officials about any problems with the signature verification on their absentee ballots, and the voter will have 10 days to correct it.

Also, election officials must provide curbside voting opportunities on Election Day for people experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or who have been exposed to the coronavirus.