Hester Jackson-McCray listens as her lawyer speaks during a hearing at the State Capitol Wednesday, Jan. 29. 2020. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Mississippians could have the final say on whether they should have the same early voting opportunities as voters do in 44 other states and the District of Columbia.

An initiative was filed Thursday with Secretary of State Michael Watson’s office to place on the election ballot a proposal to allow a minimum of 10 days of early voting, including two Saturdays, before each election. Supporters of the initiative will have to garner the signatures of roughly 100,000 registered Mississippi voters — 12% of the total from the last governor’s election — during a year’s time to place the proposal on the ballot. One-fourth of the required number of signatures must come from each of the four U.S. House districts.

Rep. Hester Jackson McCray, D-Horn Lake, said she is sponsoring the initiative in response to requests for early voting from her constituents and because of the long lines she witnessed in the 2020 presidential election and when she campaigned for election in 2019 her home county of DeSoto.

“Voting should not be difficult,” said McCray, the first African American woman elected to the Legislature from DeSoto County. “Long lines discourage voting.”

READ MORE: Despite dramatic electoral and financial setbacks, Hester Jackson-McCray makes legislative history

McCray said she was trying to pass the initiative because the Legislature has refused to act on the issue and because Gov. Tate Reeves has said he would veto any early voting legislation passed by the Legislature. Mississippi is one of six states not to have no excuse early voting.

Early voting and mail-in voting became a partisan issue this past year in large part because former Republican President Donald Trump criticized early voting, and particularly voting by mail.

The proposed initiative would not address the issue of voting by mail. It would allow people to vote early on a voting machine just as they would on Election Day. The number of early voting sites would be determined by the population size of the county or municipality.

Under the initiative plan, each county would have one early voting site at the circuit clerk’s office for state, national and county elections. All municipalities would have a site normally at the city clerk’s office for their elections.

Mississippi has some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country. People are supposed to have an excuse, such as being elderly, disabled or away from home on election day to vote early in Mississippi.

“We want to change our Mississippi Constitution so that our government must give us all enough time to vote,” said Kelly Jacobs, a DeSoto County community activist who wrote the initiative for McCray.

READ MORE: Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Speaker Philip Gunn once supported early voting. Why did they retreat during COVID-19?

Current Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann voiced support for early voting while serving as secretary of state where he oversaw state elections. He then withdrew that support.

But Hosemann indicated Thursday he might not be opposed to considering the enactment of early voting in the state.

Before the issue of garnering the signatures can start, the proposed language regarding the initiative must be approved through a process involving the offices Secretary of State and Attorney General. That process can take about two months.

Jacobs acknowledged the process of gathering the signatures can be difficult and time-consuming. She said the sponsors will be relying on volunteers, and they hope to raise enough funds to hire professional help.

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

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.