On the last day to do so, voters waited patiently in long lines to cast their absentee ballots Saturday at the Hinds County Courthouse in downtown Jackson on Oct. 31, 2020. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Unlike many other state legislatures, the Mississippi Legislature did not pass bills during the 2021 session that would make it more difficult to vote.

But the Mississippi Legislature also did not pass any bills that would make it easier to vote despite Mississippi being one of only seven states that do not allow no excuse early voting or no excuse voting by mail. The Mississippi Legislature essentially maintained the status quo in terms of voter access.

“I remain hopeful that states toward the bottom of this list like Mississippi will realize the integrity benefits of spreading out the voting over a series of days to determine any problems in the system before the polls close,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research.

The nonpartisan group recently released a report detailing access to early voting in each state. The report highlights states allowing no excuse early voting in person and by mail as those providing more access for voters. The report places Mississippi in the bottom six states in the nation for voting access.

Becker, a former senior attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Voting Section in the administrations of both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, said that there are other ways to measure voter access, but early voting is an integral factor in ensuring access.

“They are not the only measures of voter access and integrity, but they are very good measurers of access and integrity,” he said during a recent briefing via Zoom. “In a sense, one, the more days people have to vote… it is obviously more convenient for them. It is very good for people who might have difficulty finding time to vote during a limited 12-hour window on a particular Tuesday.

“Also, very importantly… it is essential for election integrity. The most secure states are those that allow for voting to be spread out over a series of days and series of methods.”

While Becker said fraud is rare, there is more of an opportunity to catch it and correct it if the voting process is spread out.

“Spreading out elections is an integrity measure,” he said.

Based on the Center for Election Innovation & Research Report, 36 states allow no excuse early voting in person and by mail while eight states allow no excuse early voting, but not no excuse voting by mail. Two of those eight states most likely will allow no excuse voting by mail by the 2022 elections, according to the report.

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

Mississippi, Alabama, Connecticut, Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire and South Carolina are the only states where people cannot vote early by mail or in person without an excuse. In Mississippi, the elderly, disabled and those who will be away from home on election day are allowed to vote early.

Various groups cited Mississippi as perhaps the state that did the least during the 2020 election to ensure voter safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. And during the recently completely session, legislators opted to keep the state’s current electoral system in place.

The only change made was to move the deadline for state and county candidates to qualify to run for office from March 1 to Feb. 1.

The Senate passed a bill that Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and other supporters said would make it easier to remove ineligible voters from the rolls. Hosemann, a former secretary of state, often has complained that there are a handful of counties with more voters on the rolls than the population of the counties. Opponents of the bill said it went too far by possibly removing eligible voters from the rolls simply because they skipped voting in some election cycles.

Regardless, the bill was killed in the House when it was not brought up for consideration. The Senate killed a House proposal that would have in some instances required voters to prove citizenship when participating in the voting process.

While Mississippi made few changes to its voting system for better or for worse, Becker said many states, buying into the mistruths that the 2020 elections were rife with fraud, are trying to limit election access. He said that is unfortunate since various studies have indicated that the 2020 election were perhaps the most secure and transparent election in the country’s history. He said most states now have paper ballots that can easily be audited and items like drop boxes actually make elections more secure. He said a drop box ensures that less people are handling a ballot than if it was turned in via the mail.

National databases that most states use prevent non-citizens from voting, he said.

Becker pointed out the 36 states that allow no excuse early voting, both in person and by mail, include both so-called red states such as Utah, Kansas and Nebraska, and so-called blue states, such as California, Colorado and Washington. Early voting became an issue during the 2020 election primarily because of the rhetoric of former President Donald Trump.

“We never had a president or White House to work so hard to delegitimize American democracy as we did during this past year,” he said. “Absolutely people should be held accountable and responsible for their words and actions.”

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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.