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LWV of Mississippi Files Lawsuit to Ease Absentee Voting Restrictions during COVID-19

JACKSON, MS—Today, the League of Women Voters of Mississippi, the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP, and three Mississippi voters filed a lawsuit seeking to expand absentee voting, waive the notarization requirement, and set up a notice and cure process during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Absentee voting in Mississippi is not user-friendly,” said Christy Wheeler, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Mississippi. “There are very few options allowing a person to vote an absentee ballot, the notarization and witnessing requirements are onerous, and there is no provision to correct a rejected ballot. In addition, the recent legislative expansion of the disability provision to include a physician-imposed quarantine is wholly undefined and subject to being narrowly or independently interpreted by each of our 82 County Circuit Clerks. Our only recourse to protect the constitutional right to vote without putting lives at risk is to ask for the Court’s intercession.” 

Mississippi is one of only a handful of states that currently does not accept the legitimate fear of illness from COVID-19 as an excuse to request an absentee ballot. The League’s lawsuit asks the court to order the Secretary of State to clarify that, under existing Mississippi law, any voter concerned about COVID-19 can vote by absentee ballot in the November general election. 

"This pandemic has disproportionately destroyed the hopes, dreams, and livelihoods of the most vulnerable groups in our country—communities of color, seniors, people with disabilities, and the income-sensitive. We cannot allow them to take another blow in the suppression of their voting rights,” said Dr. Deborah Turner, president of the board of directors of the League of Women Voters of the United States. “States like Mississippi must make the necessary changes to protect their voters and their constitutional right to vote.” 

In addition, the lawsuit asks the court to waive the notary requirement for absentee ballots for the remainder of the pandemic and to establish and notice and cure process for absentee ballots marked for rejection due to technical errors, such as a signature mismatch. 

"Mississippi has the largest percentage of Black residents in the country, and Mississippi advocates have led the fight for equality in voting rights, said Rev. Robert James, President of the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP. We join this effort to ensure that Mississippi’s election officials do their part to protect every voter's right to vote without fear for their health or safety." 

The League of Women Voters and partners are represented by Dechert, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. 

“The requirements that Mississippi has in place to be able to vote by absentee ballot are remarkably narrow and restrictive on a citizen's fundamental right to vote, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep across the nation,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “As a historic number of people are expected to cast their ballot this fall, election officials should be doing everything they can to ensure voters can abide by public health guidelines, which includes expanding options to allow citizens to vote safely by mail.” 

“Mississippi’s highest election official should ensure that all Mississippi voters are confident and clear about how they can vote safely during this pandemic; instead, he is sowing confusion and refusing to safeguard the right to vote,” said Caren Short, senior staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Without clear guidance from the Secretary of State or a court, Mississippi voters will be forced to choose between their health and casting their vote.” 

“We remain committed to ensuring that all eligible Mississippi voters have the ability to vote safely and to have their votes counted,” said Dechert LLP partner Neil Steiner

The case, Parham v. Watson, was filed in US District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. 

Read the complaint.

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CONTACT: Kayla Vix | 202-809-9668 | [email protected]