As of Sunday, a record of more than 231,000 Mississippians had voted absentee — about 19% of the more than 1.2 million total people who voted in the 2016 election.

By comparison, in 2016, a little over 101,000 absentee votes were counted, about 8% of the total turnout that year. Although some of this year’s absentees are likely to be rejected, the number received marks a 128% increase over 2016’s absentee count.

Secretary of State Michael Watson on Monday reported that as of Sunday 248,335 absentee ballots had been requested, 247,650 had been sent out and 231,031 had been returned to circuit clerk’s offices.

Saturday was the final day to vote absentee in person, but mail-in ballots postmarked by Tuesday and received within five business days will still be counted.

Circuit clerks statewide have reported heavy absentee voting and most expect a heavy in-person turnout on Tuesday. Some, including more populous counties, have seen astounding increases in absentee voting this year. For instance, Hinds County in 2016 counted 5,255 absentee votes. As of Sunday for this election, the county had received 16,917 absentee votes.

Watson said last week that more than 113,000 new voters had registered in Mississippi this election cycle.

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.


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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.