‘Not while I’m governor!’ Reeves vows to block Mississippi early, mail-in voting

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Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Gov. Tate Reeves on Thursday vowed to never allow universal mail-in voting or early voting in Mississippi under his watch.

Gov. Tate Reeves on Thursday, as the nation awaits the counting of absentee votes in several states to decide the presidential election, vowed to never allow universal mail-in voting or early voting in Mississippi under his watch.

“… based on what I see in other states today, I will also do everything in my power to make sure universal mail-in voting and no-excuse early voting are not allowed in MS—not while I’m governor!” the Republican governor tweeted on Thursday. “Too much chaos. Only way it’d happen is if many GOP legislators override a veto!”

Reeves also vowed to “do everything in my power to ensure every ballot legally cast in the 2020 election in Mississippi gets counted” as several counties’ totals had not come in as of Thursday. One race, for state Supreme Court, had not been called. This lag was largely due to an unprecedented large absentee vote, despite Mississippi’s strict absentee voting rules.

Several Republican-controlled states such as Texas, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee allow early or universal mail-in voting.

Reeves’ office did not immediately respond to a request for further explanation of his veto vows on Thursday.

READ MORE: “Practices aimed to suppress the vote”: Mississippi is the only state without early voting for all during pandemic.

President Donald Trump continues to claim Democrats are trying to steal the election from him through absentee and mail-in voter fraud, and his campaign has filed multiple lawsuits even as votes are being counted. Election officials and experts insist there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud and the process is working as it should. Mississippi GOP leaders have also cited voter fraud in support of restrictive voting regulations without evidence of any widespread voter fraud in the state.

One reason for the presidential vote delay is because several states that are still counting ballots as of Thursday afternoon are controlled by Republican elected officials, who passed policy that ensured absentee ballots could not begin to be counted until Election Day. Mississippi does not allow absentees to be counted until after the polls close at 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Mississippi has a dark history of Jim Crow voter suppression after Black citizens were given the right to vote. The state’s laws remain some of the most restrictive in the nation. Reform of Mississippi voting laws or allowing easier access in recent years has often been a partisan battle, with Republicans reluctant to ease restrictions.

Mississippi was the only state not to provide all citizens an option to vote early rather than going to crowded polls on Tuesday amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As every other state expanded some version of early voting for the pandemic, Mississippi’s Republican leaders let several bills to address the issue die.

READ MORE: Legislative leaders, once again, say they will not expand early voting during pandemic.

“Even today, in 2020, we continue to fight against old and outdated policies and practices aimed to suppress the vote,” said Corey Wiggins, executive director of the Mississippi NAACP.

State Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, a longtime advocate of reform of Mississippi’s restrictive voting regulations, said he believes Reeves’ vow is anathema to what the state’s voters want.

“More than 40 states in this country have early voting,” Blount said. “Early voting is completely secure. You walk in past a deputy sheriff into the courthouse, show your photo ID … it’s completely secure. I believe most Mississippians want it, regardless of party, regardless of who you voted for for president. People want choices, want options. If we are going to run government like a business — you would never say, ‘Come buy my product, but you’re going to have to wait in line three or four hours before I sell it to you.’ We should treat the customers, or citizens, to an efficient, safe process that meets their needs and their schedules. That’s why an overwhelming number of states, both red and blue, allow early voting.”

In Mississippi, only people who are over 65 years old, those who are going to be away from their home area on Election Day and people with disabilities are allowed to vote early either in person or by mail. To mail in an absentee ballot, a voter must have both the ballot application and the ballot notarized.

Blount said: “Mississippi has the most restrictive mail-in process in the country. Even if you don’t change eligibility for mail in, it needs to be more user friendly. Forcing people to get two different documents notarized — no other state in the country has that. Mississippi has a long history of making it hard to vote, and I believe Mississippians in both parties want to see progress.”