There are two trends out there as the November election approaches: COVID-19 infections are again on the rise, but states are trying to ensure that voting precincts won’t be hot spots for the virus’ transmission by giving voters more options for casting their ballots early.
Regrettably, Mississippi is only following one of those trends: the one that shows this virus is far from licked.
As far as early voting, as Mississippi Today reported this week, this state is a loner not just when compared to the nation but when compared to neighboring Southern states.
Citing an analysis done by Democracy Initiative, a coalition of 75 groups advocating for greater voter access, Mississippi, with its limited options for early voting, acts as if almost nothing has changed in the seven months since the coronavirus first appeared within this state’s borders.
The state Legislature did some minor tweaking of its absentee ballot laws, adding the excuse that a person in quarantine for the coronavirus or caring for a person who is, can vote by mail. But it totally ignored those who might be uncomfortable showing up at a potentially crowded voting precinct on Nov. 3, especially since state officials have said facial masks will not be required at them.
The comparisons show what an outlier Mississippi is on expanding voter access.
It is the only state in the nation that does not allow no-excuse early voting in some form, either by mail or in-person. And even though most of the contiguous states aren’t crazy about expanding mail-in voting either, all of them allow any voter who wants to cast an early ballot in person to do so.
Georgia and Texas are not contiguous states, but they both have demonstrated this week how popular early voting can be. On the first day that early voting was allowed in their states, hundreds of thousands of voters turned out, some of them waiting in line for six hours or more to cast their ballot, even though they could have come back another day when it might not have been so crowded. In Texas’ Harris County alone, where Houston is located, more than 200,000 ballots were cast on the first two days alone.
Such a heavy turnout might have defeated the purpose of reducing the risk of infection (mail-in voting is a much better precaution), but it does underscore that the public likes having a longer window to vote than restricting it to 12 hours on Election Day.
The odd thing in Mississippi is that several in the Republican Party leadership were in favor of early voting until they were against it. Obviously taking their cues from President Donald Trump, an opponent of no-excuse early voting, no one in the state GOP was willing to push for a change prior to an election in which the incumbent is in trouble. Not Secretary of State Michael Watson, who serves as Mississippi’s chief elections officer. Not Delbert Hosemann, the former secretary of state and now lieutenant governor. Not House Speaker Philip Gunn. And not Gov. Tate Reeves.
They decided it was better to risk the health of voters and poll workers than to risk the wrath of Trump and his most loyal supporters, even though this is a state that is all but guaranteed to be in his column.
Shame on them.