Voters filled every available space inside the community room of The Mark Apartments in Ridgeland. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

States like Texas, Georgia and Florida that have been in the national news recently for efforts that many say will make it more difficult for their citizens to vote still have a long way to go to catch Mississippi.

An objective argument easily can be made that there is no state where it is more difficult to vote than Mississippi.

“Mississippi is one of the most difficult states to vote in in the country,” said David Becker, executive director of the national non-profit Center for Election Innovation & Research. In April, the Center released a study showing that Mississippi is among six states that do not allow no excuse in-person or mail-in voting or both. In one of those six states, Connecticut, voters will decide in 2022 whether to amend their constitution to allow no-excuse early voting. The study cited 36 states as allowing both no-excuse voting by mail and in person and nine states allowing no-excuse early voting, but not mail-in voting.

The national news has covered extensively the law enacted in Georgia that many say will make it more difficult to vote. National boycotts were announced against Georgia. Many companies with ties to Georgia expressed their displeasure and Major League Baseball, in protest of the new law, moved the All Star game from Atlanta to Denver. In Texas, the national media has covered breathlessly the decision of House Democrats to flee the state to prevent a quorum so that Republicans could not pass a bill that would limit voting opportunities.

Yet, Mississippi chugs along with perhaps the most restrictive voting laws in the nation and hardly anyone notices.

“I know for a fact (in)Mississippi…,compared to a state like Georgia, quite frankly, it is still more difficult to vote even after the Georgia law passed,” Becker said.

Of course, Mississippi’s restrictive voting policy is nothing new. At one time Mississippi was a leader in developing and passing laws to deny African Americans the right to vote. And to this day, Mississippi, the state with the nation’s highest percentage of African Americans, still is a national leader in limiting citizens the access to the vote.

In Mississippi, a person must have an excuse to vote early, such as being disabled, over age 65 or be away from home on election day. And Mississippi is the only state to require people to get two documents notarized to vote by mail, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The voter must get both the ballot application and the ballot notarized.

Heck, in some states absentee ballot applications are mailed out to all voters or are available to be downloaded from the internet.

Of course, Mississippi was famously cited by the Democracy Initiative for limiting the accommodations made to voters because of the COVID-19 pandemic during the November 2020 election.

“Mississippi is now the only state in which in-person voting on Election Day is the only option available to all voters,” said a report released before the November election by the Democracy Initiative, which is a coalition of 75 groups advocating for voter access. “In Mississippi, an excuse (other than risk of COVID-19) is required to cast an absentee ballot or to vote early, and not all voters qualify.”

This past November, Gov. Tate Reeves proclaimed on social media, “Based on what I see in other states…I will do everything in my power to make sure universal mail-in voting and no-excuse early voting are not allowed in Mississippi – not while I’m governor. Too much chaos.”

But Becker said that no excuse early voting and voting by mail was not developed in most states because of the coronavirus. It was widely used before the pandemic, including in neighboring Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana.

Becker pointed out that in 2016, 80% of Arizonians voted by mail. That number increased to 90% in 2020. The complaints, he pointed out, were made by people upset with the fact that then-President Donald Trump did not win in Arizona as he did in 2016. Was that the chaos that the governor was referencing?

Becker, a former U.S. Department of Justice senior attorney, argues that having more days of voting actually makes for more secure elections. He said having the extra days provides election officials more opportunities to catch and fix any problems.

By having early voting, Becker said, “It is very likely it (any problem) will be detected so that the impact on the election will  be zero. But if you concentrate more voting on election day you have less secure elections.”

The question for Mississippi’s political leadership might be whether they oppose no-excuse early voting because of issues of election security or for some other reason.

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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.