BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - November’s general election was the focus of Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson on Tuesday. Watson spoke at the Mississippi Association of Supervisors’ annual meeting at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum & Convention Center. The Secretary of State shared how the vote will look in the state with not only COVID-19 but a host of important items on the ballot.
“A big election, not only for the history of our nation but also the direction of Mississippi,” Watson said. “We’ve got, obviously, the presidential, we’ve got U.S. Senate, the Congressional races, we’ve got Supreme Court races. Then we’ve got some initiatives on the ballot. We’ve got I-65, which is dealing with medical marijuana. You’ve got the way that we select our statewide elected officials, and the last one would be the new flag that will be on the ballot as well,” Watson said.
In addition, a new temporary disability absentee mail-in option was added this year by the state legislature.
“There’s one for temporary disability in current law. What the legislature said was that will include those who are ordered by a physician to quarantine due to COVID-19 or someone who’s caring for someone who has been ordered to quarantine by a physician. So, those are the two exceptions that they added to absentee voting this year by mail. You can also absentee in person with those excuses as well,” he said.
Across the nation, the discussion of a complete election by mail-in ballot is taking center stage. While that could be an option for the future, Watson doesn’t see it happening this year.
“I think there’s two distinctions you have to make with that,” Watson said. “If you look at the vote-by-mail here in Mississippi, there’s a few things that need to be pointed out: the logistics side, as well as the policy side.
“Logistically, I talked to Kim Wyman, she’s the Secretary of State in Washington, she’s a republican, so this is not a partisan issue. She’s a huge proponent of vote-by-mail. Kim said ‘listen, number one, if you’re not at 60% or more, you can not get there by November.’ Mississippi is at 3.5% vote-by-mail for absentee voting. She went on to say ‘number two, the logistics concerned here, it took us five years to implement a vote-by-mail system in Washington.’ So imagine Mississippi trying to move forward within a matter of a few months with an entire vote-by-mail system. Impossible. Once I told her that it was 3.5% in Mississippi, she said it’s going to be a train wreck, don’t even try it,” Watson said.
“The second piece is a policy issue,” Watson said. “In Mississippi, we have 33 counties that have 90% or more of the voting-age population showing as registered voters. Counties that are cleaning their voter rolls will show about 75%. Of those 33, we have five counties who are showing over 100% of their voting-age population begin registered voters. That’s impossible. That’s dead people on the rolls, and that’s folks that no longer live in Mississippi. In Mississippi, we currently have 3,400,000 registered voters. The problem with that is we have a population of 2,900,000. There’s a half-million people on voter rolls that should never be there. We’ve got to get to that issue first before we ever talk about a vote-by-mail election.”
During his speech to the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, Watson detailed the state registration deadlines associated with voting in the upcoming general election. They are as follows:
- Sept. 4, 2020 - requests for absentee ballots start
- Sept. 19, 2020 - UOCAVA (military overseas) votes begin
- Sept. 21, 2020 - absentee ballots become available
- Oct. 5, 2020 - deadline to register to vote in 2020 general election
- Oct. 31, 2020 - in-person absentee voting deadline (5 p.m.)