Mississippians could have the final say on whether they should have the same early voting opportunities as voters do in 44 other states and the District of Columbia.
An initiative was filed Thursday with Secretary of State Michael Watson’s office to place on the election ballot a proposal to allow a minimum of 10 days of early voting, including two Saturdays, before each election. Supporters of the initiative will have to garner the signatures of roughly 100,000 registered Mississippi voters — 12% of the total from the last governor’s election — during a year’s time to place the proposal on the ballot. One-fourth of the required number of signatures must come from each of the four U.S. House districts.
Rep. Hester Jackson McCray, D-Horn Lake, said she is sponsoring the initiative in response to requests for early voting from her constituents and because of the long lines she witnessed in the 2020 presidential election and when she campaigned for election in 2019 her home county of DeSoto.
“Voting should not be difficult,” said McCray, the first African American woman elected to the Legislature from DeSoto County. “Long lines discourage voting.”
McCray said she was trying to pass the initiative because the Legislature has refused to act on the issue and because Gov. Tate Reeves has said he would veto any early voting legislation passed by the Legislature. Mississippi is one of six states not to have no excuse early voting.
Early voting and mail-in voting became a partisan issue this past year in large part because former Republican President Donald Trump criticized early voting, and particularly voting by mail.
The proposed initiative would not address the issue of voting by mail. It would allow people to vote early on a voting machine just as they would on Election Day. The number of early voting sites would be determined by the population size of the county or municipality.
Under the initiative plan, each county would have one early voting site at the circuit clerk’s office for state, national and county elections. All municipalities would have a site normally at the city clerk’s office for their elections.
Mississippi has some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country. People are supposed to have an excuse, such as being elderly, disabled or away from home on election day to vote early in Mississippi.
“We want to change our Mississippi Constitution so that our government must give us all enough time to vote,” said Kelly Jacobs, a DeSoto County community activist who wrote the initiative for McCray.
Current Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann voiced support for early voting while serving as secretary of state where he oversaw state elections. He then withdrew that support.
But Hosemann indicated Thursday he might not be opposed to considering the enactment of early voting in the state.
Before the issue of garnering the signatures can start, the proposed language regarding the initiative must be approved through a process involving the offices Secretary of State and Attorney General. That process can take about two months.
Jacobs acknowledged the process of gathering the signatures can be difficult and time-consuming. She said the sponsors will be relying on volunteers, and they hope to raise enough funds to hire professional help.