Mississippi working on COVID-19 contingency plans for November election

Updated: May. 18, 2020 at 8:15 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) -Election day is less than six months away and Mississippi is working through its COVID-19 contingency plan.

Think about all the things you touch when you go to your polling place on election day. It’s enough to give pause to the state’s election officials who are working through a plan in case COVID-19 is still a concern come November.

“We didn’t want to overreact," said Secretary of State Michael Watson. “We wanted to make sure that we were focusing on election day and making them feel safe.”

There are a couple of changes you may see by November at the polling locations.

“Obviously, the poll workers are going to have PPE," said Watson. “We are going to have sanitation stations set up for that. We are going to be providing that for all of our counties.”

The state is exploring options of moving all counties to paper ballots. In the event that doesn’t happen by November, they’re looking at options.

“We asked one of our vendors last week… as simple as something as a popsicle stick or a stylus… something that we can give the voter so they’re not continuously touching the machine," noted Watson.

The Secretary of State is asking the legislature to change the law as it relates to in person only absentee voting during a state of Emergency.

“It will take the pressure off election day," he explained. “So, it will decrease the size of groups that are going to the precincts.”

Senator David Blount serves on the Senate Election committee and has long advocated for election reforms in the state. He believes mail-in absentee voting should be expanded, as well.

“I personally think we should have early voting for everybody," said Blount. "I think voters demand it. Most states have it. People want the convenience of it. But I would say in Mississippi, in a pandemic year, every voter should be able to use the existing absentee process that includes in person but also includes mail. We’ve got a process already in law to do that. And then when the pandemic is over, we go back to normal...we can have a different conversation.”

Watson, though, says he has too many concerns to move to a vote by mail system, even during this crisis.

“Talk about some of the complexities of vote by mail," explained Watson. "Number one, the first thing and I can’t get past this piece, if you look at our voter rolls… Are they clean? Are they correct? Until you get those voter rolls cleaned up, I don’t think you can even start the conversation about that by mail.”

The Secretary of State’s office say it will be sending out information to keep voters informed of any changes ahead of election day.

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