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Early in-person voting legislation...

Early in-person voting legislation passes Mississippi Senate

By: Sarah Ulmer - March 13, 2024

  • The legislation would allow for Magnolia State voters to cast a ballot 15 days prior to an election in their local Circuit Clerk’s office.

The Mississippi Senate has advanced a bill that would allow for early in-person voting to be available 15 days prior to an election.

Technically, voting would not be accessible all 15 days, due to Sunday office closures.

The legislation passed overwhelmingly in the Senate by a vote of 44 to 8 on Tuesday, with all Democrats and a majority of Republicans backing the bill.

Opposing the measure were Republican Senators Kevin Blackwell, Jenifer Branning, Kathy Chism, Angela Hill, Tyler McCaughn, Mike Seymour, Jeff Tate and Neil Whaley.

The legislation, SB 2580, provides that voters could vote in person at their Circuit Clerk’s office up to 15 days before an election. The early voting period would close on the Saturday prior to the election.

Access to ballots would be the same as it is on Election Day with the requirement of an approved and valid photo ID in order for a registered voter to cast their ballot.

State Senator Jeremy England (R), Senate Elections Committee Chairman, said new voting option would take the place of in-person absentee voting which currently lasts for 45 days in Mississippi. England said mail-in absentee voting would still be accessible if an individual qualifies.

Sen. Jeremy England, R-Vancleave, presents legislation in the Senate Chamber at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. Lawmakers in both chambers are considering bills that survived their committee deadline. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

All ballots received during early voting would be done on an official ballot and immediately scanned, England noted. Those votes would then be verified, but not counted until election night.

The bill would not go into effect until January 1, 2026.

State Senator Angela Hill (R) asked if there was a cost associated with this change in how the state allows for voting to be conducted.

Senator England did not have an exact number but did say removing the 45-day in-person absentee voting period was likely to reduce costs. He added that Circuit Clerks will have access to the Election Support Fund for any additional money they would need to implement the changes.

“My concern would be that the Clerk’s offices would get really congested without excused voting because with absentees people trickle in, at least in my area. I’m just concerned about how they will handle the logistics of doing something like this,” said Senator Hill.  

Senator England told Hill that he has had conversations with Circuit Clerks on the issue. While they did not take a position regarding the change, England said they did not express opposition.

The bill would not allow for any additional locations to be utilized for voting purposes during the 15-day time period. All early voting must take place at a Circuit Clerk’s office.

State Senator Jeff Tate (R) argued against the bill, saying it was a step in the wrong direction. Tate said since COVID many have questioned the election process and if changes should be made to accommodate for a wider range of opportunities to cast a ballot. Tate said he believes Mississippi did the right thing in not going “too far” in expanding those allowances in 2020.

Senator Jeff Tate (R)

“We’ve done a good job in Mississippi. People do not question our elections, they do not question the process, the integrity, or the perception of the integrity,” said Senator Tate when speaking on the bill. “I would ask you to vote no and think about how elections are in Mississippi. We do not need an election season; we need to appreciate the institution of Election Day voting.”

Senator Tate added that he believed this would lead to other changes that could potentially allow people to question the election process in Mississippi.

Senator England argued that this bill provides security where it is currently lacking. He reiterated that with in-person early voting, ballots are registered in a scantron machine immediately. Those votes are also considered counted at 7:00 p.m. on an Election Day.

“One thing that hurts our elections is the perception of votes not counted on Election Day,” said England. “I can tell you one thing that hurts the integrity of our elections whether it’s realistic or not is the perception of votes being counted after Election Day, and this gets rid of that.”

England went on to add that others in support of the bill say that the in-person affidavit ballot process can cause issues with the privacy of casting a ballot. Absentee ballots are often opened by individuals within a community who would then have knowledge of how someone voted. England said that can be uncomfortable for voters.

The Coast Senator said he understands change is often difficult, but this issue is one that constituents are asking for and one that needs to move forward.

“We are one of only three states that don’t do this currently. I think this is a step in the right direction for Mississippi and I’d ask for you to please support the bill,” said England. 

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, Mississippi, Alabama and New Hampshire are the only states in the nation that do not allow in-person early voting. Surrounding states near Mississippi all allow early voting. Texas allows it up to 17 days prior to an election, Louisiana is 14 days, Florida is 10 days and Tennessee is 20 days. All have varying cut off days prior to the election in which early voting must end.

The bill now heads to the House for consideration.

About the Author(s)
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Sarah Ulmer

Sarah is a Mississippi native, born and raised in Madison. She is a graduate of Mississippi State University, where she studied Communications, with an emphasis in Broadcasting and Journalism. Sarah’s experience spans multiple mediums, including extensive videography with both at home and overseas, broadcasting daily news, and hosting a live radio show. In 2017, Sarah became a member of the Capitol Press Corp in Mississippi and has faithfully covered the decisions being made by leaders on some of the most important issues facing our state. Email Sarah: