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Mississippi’s strict voting requirements and loose coronavirus precautions in counties have concerned many Mississippians, and they wonder whether voting in person on Election Day could be dangerous as state health officials work to slow down another spike in cases.
We asked our readers how they felt about voting in person on Election Day. More than 540 readers responded. Here are the results with added context from health officials on how risky it actually is to vote in person.
Mississippi is the only state not to provide all citizens an option to vote early rather than go to crowded precincts on Election Day during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report by the Democracy Initiative. People showing symptoms of the virus can vote curbside, according to the secretary of state’s office.
Of the 543 respondents, 59% said they will not feel safe voting in person on Election Day. Of those who responded that they will feel safe, most said it was because they plan to continue masking and social distancing.
But 97% of respondents said that wouldn’t keep them from voting.
In fact, many Mississippians have already voted by absentee ballot. Mississippians continue to vote absentee in record numbers with more than 169,000 ballots requested, compared to less than 111,000 requested in the 2016 election.
Gov. Tate Reeves on Monday added seven counties to his mask-wearing order, bringing the total to 16 counties where he has reinstated the mandate as COVID-19 cases spike.
But Reeves said mask wearing will not be mandated for voting in the Nov. 3 election, even in those counties, as he believes mandating them would be an unconstitutional restriction.
93% of participants responded that they were still planning to wear a mask to their polling place.
So, how safe is it actually to vote in person?
Voting in person can be done safely, according to numerous public health officials, though there is slight risk. Most experts compare the risk to grocery shopping — tight, often-crowded spaces without a lot of airflow. Their assessment, though, factors in widespread masking.
Some polling places are facing pressure to move booths outside to better protect voters. Any enclosed, poorly ventilated space can be a breeding ground for COVID-19 spread — the smaller and more crowded the space, the easier a virus can spread from one person to another. Many polling places across the state are just these spaces. Waiting in long lines inside and failing to socially distance also increases risk.
What more do you need to know about voting in Mississippi? View our answers to frequently asked questions from our readers.
Visit our 2020 Voter Guide for a more comprehensive guide to the 2020 Mississippi election.