The Mississippi Supreme Court today confirmed the position taken by the secretary of state and the plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought by the Mississippi Center for Justice and the ACLU that voters may vote absentee if they have a medical condition that qualifies as a “physical disability” and puts them at a greater risk of severe consequences if they contract COVID-19.
They also may vote absentee, said the court, if they are under a directive from their physician to quarantine. However, the court rejected the argument that all voters, including those with no medical conditions, should be able to vote absentee if they are following public health guidance to avoid community events.
In the filings before the Mississippi Supreme Court, the secretary of state agreed that the Hinds County Chancery Court correctly held that the four plaintiffs with medical conditions such as kidney disease, severe asthma, and diabetes fell under the provision allowing absentee voting for those with a “physical disability” that “could reasonably cause danger” to the voter or others if the voter goes to the polls on Election Day.
The Supreme Court’s ruling confirmed the secretary’s position that such a condition must qualify as a “physical disability” in order for the person to vote absentee under that provision.
The court also held a voter who receives “a directive from a duly authorized physician that orders a voter to quarantine” may also vote absentee. However, the court rejected the argument that voters who have no medical conditions may vote absentee if they are following public health guidance to avoid community events.
We are pleased that the secretary of state and the court recognize that some voters have conditions that qualify as “physical disabilities” and that place them at such a risk for more severe consequences from COVID-19 that they are allowed to vote absentee. But we are disappointed that voters without such conditions are being forced to ignore public health guidance and required to vote in person.
We hope the Legislature will go back into session and take action to protect vulnerable people during this public health crisis. Even if the legislators are concerned about mail-in voting, they could expand in-person absentee voting or allow early in-person voting during the pandemic and provide for counties to hold Saturday outdoor sessions during October so people can vote in an outdoor setting where COVID-19 is not so easily transferred.
For people who are required to vote on Election Day, they should try to vote during hours when fewer people are at the polls, which means avoiding early morning hours, lunchtime, and late afternoon and evening. Of course, many people have to work and can only vote during the busier hours. Hopefully the Legislature will provide some mechanism to lighten the risk for voters and lighten the load for elections officials that we will otherwise see on Election Day.