With five days to go until the Oct. 31 deadline, Mississippians in Washington, Hinds, Harrison and Sunflower counties have already returned twice as many absentee ballots for this year’s general election compared to 2016.
Washington, Hinds and Sunflower each have non-white populations of at least 70%, and states nationwide have reported large jumps in African American early voting turnout. In Harrison County, which includes Biloxi and Gulfport, Black voters make up 26% of the population.
Voters in Washington County, which includes Greenville, lead the pack relative to their 2016 vote totals, with 231% as many votes cast and returned to election officials by Sunday. Among the current total of 4,224, 37% of Washington County voters cited being age 65 or older their reason for voting absentee.
The second most cited reason for casting an absentee ballot was that a voter had a “temporary disability,” which accounted for 22% of votes cast.
After leading last week, Hinds County, the home of the capital city of Jackson, now has the second highest number of absentee ballots returned relative to its 2016 total. By Sunday, voters had returned 11,772 absentee ballots to election officials, compared to just 5,314 in all of 2016.
Statewide, almost 170,000 Mississippians have already requested absentee ballots by Sunday and election officials reported that voters had already returned nearly 143,000. Statewide, voters have met or exceeded 2016 absentee totals in 59 of 82 counties.
Last week, Washington County Circuit Clerk Barbara Esters-Parker told Mississippi Free Press reporting fellow John McGee that a larger share of absentee voters are claiming a temporary disability to vote than in past years.
“According to what (the Mississippi secretary of state’s office) told the clerks, if that’s the reason (voters) give, then we have no right to question if it’s actually true or that they are fearing going to the polls because of COVID,” Esters-Parker told the Mississippi Free Press. “Like I said, I don’t know if the secretary of state is having any issues, but if that’s what they tell us, then we just have to believe that it’s so.”
Statewide, 21% of voters who have already cast absentee ballots cited a temporary disability.
The Mississippi Free Press analyzed the absentee voting 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, in the search for solutions to help make Mississippi’s democracy more transparent for voters this year and in the future. You can use the map below this article to explore county-level absentee voting data with weekly updates until the week of the election. Detailed charts to accompany this map are available at mfp.ms/voting. The American Press Institute’s Trusted Elections Network provided support for this project.
Most states across the country responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by making voting more accessible to help avoid packed precincts on Election Day, including with universal absentee voting, mail-in voting options or universal early voting.
This year, the Mississippi Legislature only made one change, updating 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.
The last day to request an absentee ballot to vote by mail was Oct. 24, but voters can still cast absentee ballots in person this week.
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
Mississippians who qualify to vote absentee have until 5 p.m. on Oct. 31 to vote in-person at their circuit clerk’s office.
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. For more information, visit sos.ms.gov/vote.