Absentee voting can begin next week
In-person absentee voting for the General Election can begin Monday and will be available through the end of October.
The Pearl River County Circuit Clerk’s Office is proofing ballots in preparation for the election, said Circuit Clerk Nance Stokes. Stokes said an increase in absentee ballots is expected this year. Turnout in a presidential election year is usually higher, and there are three statewide ballot measures that may bring more people to the polls. Voters will be able to share their voice on medical marijuana, the proposed design for the new state flag and a change concerning requirements for winning a statewide office.
Stokes also expects the pandemic to affect how many people choose to cast absentee ballots instead of voting in person on Election Day.
The deadline to register to vote in the general election is Oct. 5. The Circuit Clerk’s office will be open for in-person absentee voting beginning Monday, Sept. 21. Voters will be able to vote absentee Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or on three different Saturdays: Oct. 3 and Oct. 24 from 8 a.m. to noon or Oct. 31 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The locations for in-person absentee voting will be a space on the first floor of the County Courthouse in Poplarville and a second floor conference room in the Chimney Square building in Picayune. The two spaces were chosen because they should give voters enough space to stay socially distant and each space has one entrance and one exit. There will be clear signage within the buildings about the locations, said Stokes and her office is requesting a bailiff or deputy at each location to help manage the flow of people.
As of Wednesday, the public could not walk into the Circuit Clerk’s offices in Picayune and Poplarville without calling first, a measure taken several months ago to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But starting Monday the doors will be open so that people are able to vote absentee, said Stokes.
Who can vote absentee
For in-person absentee voting in Mississippi, there is a somewhat broad list of reasons that allow someone to vote absentee. The restrictions on who is able to mail-in an absentee ballot are narrower.
Anyone who would be unable to vote in person because they would be required to be at work on Election Day when the polls would be open can cast an in-person absentee ballot. So can anyone who will be away from their county of residence on Election Day for any reason.
The groups allowed to cast in-person absentee ballots also include students, teachers or administrators at a school whose job or studies require them to be out of the county on Election Day and members of the Mississippi congressional delegation or their spouses who are unable to be in their county of residence on Election Day.
Anyone 65 or older can vote absentee either in-person or by mail. People who are temporarily residing outside of their county of residence can mail in an absentee ballot. This includes college students or someone temporarily residing out of state for work, said Stokes.
Anyone with a temporary or permanent disability who is unable to vote in-person without substantial hardship or who could endanger themselves or others by voting in person is also able to cast an absentee ballot in person or by mail.
A parent, spouse or dependent of someone with a temporary or permanent disability who will be hospitalized more than 50 miles from their county is also able cast an in-person or mail-in absentee ballot, if they would be with that person on Election Day.
The Legislature expanded the definition of “temporary disability,” to include voters who are under a physician imposed quarantine due to COVID-19, or voters who are caring for a dependent under a physician-imposed quarantine due to COVID-19. That expansion will be repealed at the end of the year.
There are several lawsuits both seeking to clarify the new provision and seeking to ease voting restrictions. Stokes said her office is waiting on the lawsuits to be decided to get clarity on exactly how the provision should be applied.
Mail-in absentee ballots
There is not a deadline for requesting a mail-in absentee ballot, but the post office has recommended Stokes’ office plan on a two-week turn around time for mail-in ballots.
The deadline for the Circuit Clerk’s office to receive mail-in ballots has been extended from previous years. Mail-in ballots can be received up to five business days after the election if the envelope is postmarked on or before the date of the election. However, Stokes encourages anyone casting an absentee ballot by mail to request it early so they have time to receive it, cast their ballot and mail it back.
“If you’re having your ballot mailed, the earlier the better because we don’t want any delays with the postal service,” said Stokes. “If an absentee ballot is mailed to a voter, it has to be mailed back in. They cannot hand deliver it to the office.”
Once requested, the Circuit Clerk’s office typically mails out a ballot within 24 hours, said Stokes.
Voters are strongly encouraged to wear a face mask and practice social distancing, according to the Secretary of State’s website, but will still be able to vote without one. Poll managers can ask voters to lower their face mask briefly at a six foot distance when checking the voter’s photo ID, according to the website.
“We’re taking those extra precautions this year because of Covid, with hand sanitizer and masks,” said Stokes. “We’re taking all those precautions to keep our poll workers and our voters safe.”