In Mississippi, Absentee Ballot Requests Already Exceed 2016 Totals; County-by-County Numbers in MFP Voting Project

Washington County Circuit Clerk Barbara Esters-Parkers, seen here speaking with Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson in July, told the Mississippi Free Press that she has seen a surge in absentee voters claiming a temporary disability. Photo courtesy Secretary of State Michael Watson.

More Mississippians have already requested more absentee ballots for this year’s presidential election than did so during the last one four years ago. Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson’s office reported Oct. 19 that, by Sunday, 120,253 Mississippians had requested ballots—eclipsing the 110,812 voters requested absentee ballots in 2016. Qualifying voters can either vote absentee in-person or by mail.

Election commissioners have already received 89,499 returned ballots, not far behind the 102,338 who returned ballots by the 2016 deadlines. In 10 counties, election commissioners have already received more absentee ballots than four years ago. Those counties are: Hinds, Harrison, Washington, Lafayette, Jackson, Sunflower, Jefferson Davis, Madison, Lee and Rankin counties.

The Mississippi Free Press analyzed the absentee voting data data as part of our “Trusted Elections in Mississippi: The MFP Voting Project” in Mississippi, which will include original reporting and data visualizations at this link between now and the election, and then beyond, to help make Mississippi’s democracy more transparent for voters this year and beyond. You can use the map and accompanying table in this article to explore county-level absentee voting data with weekly updates until the week of the election. The American Press Institute’s Trusted Elections Network provided support for this project.

The data show that, by Sunday, Hinds County voters had returned nearly twice as many absentee ballots as they did for the duration of the last presidential election, with 8,195 ballots returned this year so far compared to 4,530 total cast by the 2016 deadline. 


Hinds, which includes the capital city of Jackson, is more than 70% Black, as are Washington (Greenville) and Sunflower (Indianola and Ruleville), the counties with the third and sixth highest rate of ballots returned relative to 2016.

 

Washington County Circuit Clerk Barbara Esters-Parkers told Mississippi Free Press reporter later on Oct. 19 John McGee that a larger number of absentee voters are claiming a temporary disability to vote than in past years. 

In Mississippi, voters may request absentee ballots for a limited number of people: 

  • Those who plan to be outside of the county on Election Day for any reason
  • Students, teachers or school administrators (or a spouse or dependent of one) whose studies or work requires them to be absent on Election Day
  • People who have a temporary or permanent physical disability that makes it difficult for them to vote in person without significant hardship (or the spouse or dependent thereof)
  • Those ages 65 and older
  • Those who must work on Election Day during the times the polls are open
  • Members, spouses and dependents of Mississippi’s congressional delegation
  • Those who must be at work during Election Day at the times the polls are open
  • Disabled war veterans in a hospital (or the spouse of dependent thereof)
  • Members of the Merchant Marine or the American Red Cross (or the spouse or dependent thereof)
  • The parent, spouse or dependent who will be caring for someone on Election Day who has a temporary or permanent physical disability who is hospitalized outside the county where they vote or more than 50 miles away

This year, the Mississippi Legislature updated the language on the temporary disability clause of the absentee ballot clause to note that a “temporary disability “may include, but is not limited to, a physician-imposed quarantine due to COVID-19 during the year 2020” and to include people “caring for a dependent that is under a physician-issued quarantine due to COVID-19.” That addition to the law will repeal itself, or expire, on Dec. 31, 2020.

Mississippians who qualify to vote absentee have until Oct. 31 to vote in-person at their circuit clerk’s office or until Oct. 24 to request a mail-in absentee ballot, which include notarization requirements except for those with a temporary or permanent disability. 

The secretary of state’s office is recommending that voters who opted for mail ballots send them back at least seven days before the Nov. 3 election, but Mississippi will count ballots postmarked by Election Day so long as they are received within five business days of the election.

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