Mississippi justices: No broad absentee voting during COVID

Mississippi law does not allow absentee voting by all people who have health conditions that might make them vulnerable to COVID-19

A majority of justices reversed a Sept. 2 decision by Hinds County Chancery Judge Denise Owens, saying that she too broadly interpreted some changes that legislators made to state law this year.

“Having a preexisting condition that puts a voter at a higher risk does not automatically create a temporary disability for absentee-voting purposes,” justices wrote.

Mississippi does not allow widespread early voting. Instead, state law says absentee voting is available to anyone who is 65 or older, or for voters of any age who are permanently disabled or will be out of their home county on election day. People who have to work on election day when the polls are open also are allowed to vote absentee.

Legislators tweaked the law this year with provisions that expire at the end of 2020. Those allow absentee voting by someone with a temporary or permanent disability that may include “a physician-imposed quarantine due to COVID-19” or by a person who is “caring for a dependent that is under a physician-imposed quarantine due to COVID-19.”

Secretary of State Michael Watson appealed Owens’ order to the state Supreme Court.

Attorneys for Watson wrote in the appeal that the state law’s “narrow absentee excuse does not stretch to voters without an underlying ‘physical disability’ just because they have a fear of contracting COVID-19 at the polls, or the voters are voluntarily following public health guidance.”

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.

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