The Mississippi Legislature seems to understand that the pandemic is radically altering how people interact.
They adjourned for several weeks during the early stages of the outbreak because the leadership did not feel it was safe for members and staff to gather at the Capitol. When they came back into session, dozens of them wound up getting infected, apparently because they didn’t closely follow health officials’ recommendations on social distancing and wearing masks.
With that personal experience, one would think they would have followed the lead of other states and significantly loosened up the requirements for early or absentee voting, if not permanently, at least for the upcoming November general election.
Instead, they just tweaked the current absent voter law to include among the permissible excuses for mail-in voting that the person has been quarantined for COVID-19 at a doctor’s order or is caring for someone who has been so quarantined.
What about all the people, including those under age 65 but with compromised health conditions, who might be afraid to risk lining up at a voting precinct? Or anyone else who just is not comfortable being around a lot of people who may or may not be carriers of the coronavirus?
The Legislature is leaving these worried folks with the choice of either risking their health or shirking their civic duty. Why would lawmakers do that, unless the Republican-dominated Legislature buys the line — against all evidence — that early and absentee voting disproportionately benefits Democratic candidates?
While other states, pandemic or not, have been gravitating toward increasing the ease of voting, Mississippi balks. According to the Clarion Ledger, it is now one of only four states that is not offering some type of no-excuse early voting to everyone.
This would be wrongheaded in normal times. It’s downright dangerous during a pandemic.