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Protecting Election 2020 from Covid-19: A Toolkit for Mississippi Activists

If the Covid-19 pandemic continues into November, we will need to change our election practices to make sure voters don’t have to choose between their health and their right to vote. We have the solutions to make our elections both safe and accessible to all. And with this toolkit, you will know what reforms your state needs and where to focus your efforts.

Last Updated: October 22, 2020
Published: August 21, 2020

This is part of the Brennan Center’s Toolkits for Activists Across the Nation.

Jump to a section: 
Political Context  |  What's in Place and What’s Needed  |  Key Dates

Administering an election under pandemic conditions requires undertaking steps to keep voting accessible, safe, and secure. The guide below lays out the problems Covid-19 poses, what preparedness measures Mississippi has, and what changes are still needed. But first, we offer some political context for your advocacy.


Advocacy Focus: Local Reform

Local officials have a lot of responsibility over elections. They are a great place to focus advocacy efforts. Though state officials can make any of the changes in this toolkit, we highlight some examples of changes that local elections officials can also make with this symbol:🔸


Political Context

Below is a list of the relevant officials and information about the legislative session.

Governor: Tate Reeves (R)  

Secretary of State: Michael Watson (R)

Legislature: House (R) Senate (R)

Legislative Session: The legislature is scheduled to adjourn on October 10, 2020. Only the governor can call a special legislative session.

Local Elections Officials: In Mississippi, a number of county officials share responsibilities for administering elections. You can look up individual county officials here.

What Mississippi Has and What’s Needed

Three priorities. There are three key areas where we need to shore up our elections systems for success during a pandemic: registration, mail voting, and in-person voting.

Registration

Covid-19 may disrupt the traditional ways Americans register to vote, like get out the vote drives or registering at government agencies. In the crucial weeks before the registration deadline, postal service disruptions may lead many registration forms to arrive at election offices after the deadline.

Changes Still Needed:

  • Prepare to extend mail voter registration deadlines based on conditions in the state
  • Online voter registration
  • Voter registration on Election Day

Voting by Mail

Because of Covid-19, long lines and crowds at the polls pose health risks not seen in previous elections. Allowing every citizen to vote by mail reduces the number of people at the polls on Election Day and decreases the exposure risk to Covid-19.

Preparatory Measures Mississippi Already Has Taken:

  • No ID requirement to vote by mail
  • Accepts late-arriving mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day
  • Provides post-election notice and cure opportunity for defects on absentee-ballot envelope, including signature mismatch

Changes Still Needed:

  • Allow voters to vote by mail without an excuse
  • Online tool for requesting a mail-in ballot
  • Eliminate notary or witness requirement for return of mail ballot
  • Provide pre-paid postage for voting by mail
  • Provide post-election notice and cure opportunity for defects on absentee-ballot envelope, including missing signatures
  • Allow the mailing of absentee-ballot applications to all voters who have not yet applied

In-Person Voting

Even with expanded mail voting opportunity, states cannot close polling places. To do so may disenfranchise voters without Internet and mail access, or those who do not wish to cast a ballot by mail. In-person voting must be done in accordance with health guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Changes Still Needed:

  • Establish in-person early voting
  • Ensure sufficient polling places are open and resourced on Election Day🔸
  • Take proper public health precautions to ensure safe polling places🔸
  • Hold training sessions for polling-place workers well in advance of Election Day, so that election officials can better anticipate problems with staffing and logistics🔸
  • Increase access to curbside voting at polling locations

Advocacy Focus: Protecting Polling Places

No matter how prepared Mississippi is as a matter of policy, elections officials and advocates must stay vigilant about ensuring safe, healthy in-person voting is an option for everyone all the way through Election Day. Here are some important things to know about who makes decisions about polling places in Mississippi and what rules govern the process:

  • Voters can cast emergency paper ballots if the voting machine stops working.🔸
  • There is no requirement for polling places to be located within their corresponding precincts. Placement of polling places outside of their corresponding precincts are allowed if such placement better accommodates the electorate and better facilitates the holding of the election.🔸
  • There is no minimum number of ballots required to be printed for each polling place; however, a sufficient number of ballots is required based on the number of registered voters in each precinct.🔸

Key Dates for Mississippi Elections

  • September 21, 2020: First day of in-person absentee voting at the circuit clerk’s office for the General Election
  • October 5, 2020: Deadline to register to vote in the General Election (Application must be postmarked by this date, or else hand delivered to the circuit clerk’s office before the deadline)
  • November 3, 2020: General Election Day