State, local officials discuss absentee voting amid pandemic

State, local officials discuss absentee voting amid pandemic

MOSELLE, Miss. (WDAM) - We’re weeks away from the presidential election and the COVID-19 pandemic will change how many Americans vote this Election Day. This year, most states are allowing voters to cast a ballot by mail without an excuse.

“We do not have that in Mississippi, but we do have absentee voting by mail if you fall in one of those four excuses,” Secretary of State Michael Watson said.

For The Magnolia State, in-person voting is the only option, unless you fall under a traditional absentee excuse. A new excuse added by the Mississippi Legislature earlier this year allows anyone “under a physician-imposed quarantine due to COVID-19 during the year 2020 or is caring for a dependent who is under a physician-imposed quarantine due to COVID-19” to vote by absentee ballot.

So what does that mean for someone in Mississippi who is diagnosed positive for COVID-19 a day or two before the November election or on Election Day? WDAM asked the Secretary of State and Gov. Tate Reeves.

“What does that look like if someone does have COVID-19?” Watson said. “You can’t turn them away, they’re going to have to vote. It’s a precious right, and so we’ve got to protect that right. So, I think what you’re going to see a lot of the counties do are set up tents outside and then have tables there so they’re again reducing the exposure.”

“I don’t anticipate that there being any real challenges with individuals that are trying to get to the polls to vote,” Reeves said. “If they have COVID-19, they can vote absentee. If it happens on Election Day, then obviously those are things that we’ll have to deal with.”

According to state and local officials, if you’re diagnosed with COVID-19 near election time, there may be time to vote absentee by mail. Another change by lawmakers, mail-in ballots will count if they are postmarked by election day and received within five business days.

“If someone is tested or under a quarantine, a physician quarantine for COVID, if the time permits, then we can mail them a ballot,” Jones County Circuit Clerk Concetta Brooks said. “If that ballot is postmarked Nov. 3 and it gets back to us within five days after the election, that ballot will count.”

“There’s no deadline to request it, there’s a deadline to receive it,” Watson said. “So, as long as you can get your application and your ballot done by Election Day, that would be a possibility. Again, that’s a short time frame, so it would be a hard turnaround, but other than that, I think you’re going to see most counties set up some kind of voting temporary station outside. There is also curbside voting, and so your circuit clerks will be aware of that. Folks who do not need to expose themselves to others or again have been COVID-19 diagnosed within the last couple of days there before the election, I think that will be an opportunity as well.”

In Mississippi, fear of COVID-19 is not an excuse and having a health condition that may make you vulnerable to the virus doesn’t necessarily exempt you to vote absentee. If you do choose to vote absentee by mail, you may be required to show a doctor’s excuse.

“Under the absentee excuses, under a permanent disability you do have to show paperwork,” Watson said. “Under temporary disability, you don’t.”

Since COVID-19 is considered a “temporary physical disability,” Watson says they will be looking for voters who are trying to take advantage of the system.

“You’re going to receive an application; you will check off the reason for which you are using the absentee excuse and then it’s on your word,” Watson said. “Obviously, you have to show your ID and you get that verified by a notary public. So again, making sure voter ID is still in place there, but you’re right, if someone wants to subvert the system and lie, we would have to catch them on that and then they would have to be prosecuted. So, we hope that folks will be honest and forthright in this election. We’re going to be looking for those excuses and for those folks who are trying to take advantage of the system. But again, people lie, people are disingenuous, and people subvert the system. Unfortunately, that’s part of everyday elections, we hope that doesn’t happen very often, but it possibly could.”

Watson says so far, they’ve received more than 8,000 mail-in absentee applications, and he expects that number to increase.

“We’ve had elections that have had other issues come up and Mississippi has been prepared and handled that well,” Watson said. “Again, I think the combination of the plan we have in place for our precincts, as well as absentee voting, should have Mississippi prepared for a great election in November.”

Another change made by lawmakers this year: your absentee vote will count as your final vote. You will not be able to come back on election day to change your vote.

For more Mississippi voter information, click here.

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