WASHINGTON, D.C. –The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed a lawsuit concerning Mississippi’s onerous and costly absentee voting procedures. The lawsuit seeks emergency relief for absentee voters seeking to participate in the November 27th runoff election and was filed in federal court in the Southern District of Mississippi. The suit seeks emergency relief for absentee voters including an order that state defendants extend the deadline for the return of absentee ballots. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP and three individual Mississippi voters who are away from home during the election next week.
“Mississippi’s absentee balloting procedures are some of the most restrictive in the country,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Without emergency relief from the court, hundreds, if not thousands of Mississippians who wish to vote by absentee ballot in the upcoming November 27th runoff election may be disenfranchised. Exercising one’s fundamental right to vote should not be difficult or costly.”
“It is imperative that all Mississippians have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote and the MS NAACP will continue to stand on that principle,” said Corey Wiggins, executive director of the Mississippi NAACP.
Because election results from the general election were certified on Friday, November 16th, county circuit clerks, who are in charge of mailing out ballots, were only able to start mailing out absentee ballots for the runoff on Monday, November 19th. This means that, under a best case scenario assuming no delays in postal service, Mississippi voters who were out-of-state received their ballots November 21st or November 23rd (because Thursday, November 22nd was Thanksgiving). Out-of-state voters were forced to get their mail over the holiday weekend, complete their ballot and get it notarized, and place the ballot back in the mail so that it is received by 5pm today. This was impossible for most voters unless they paid to overnight their ballot – a service that costs approximately $24 and which many Mississippians – especially those who are low or moderate income – are unable to afford.
“We are committed to ensuring that all eligible voters have an opportunity to cast a ballot and have their votes counted,” said Neil Steiner, partner at Dechert, LLP.
Given the tight timeframe for absentee voters wishing to participate in the runoff election, the Lawyers’ Committee’s lawsuit asks the court to extend the deadline for absentee voting, so that any absentee ballot postmarked by Tuesday, November 27th is counted. In addition, the lawsuit asks the court to order Defendants to take steps to allow for absentee ballots to be made via email, provide downloadable and otherwise reproducible versions of the absentee ballot request form, relax notary requirements, and take other action to make it less burdensome for Mississippians to vote by absentee ballot.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s lawsuit was filed along with Dechert LLP, and attorney Carroll Rhodes. Named defendants include Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and others.
Mississippi voters wishing to vote absentee in the upcoming runoff election should also be aware that their absentee ballot must be notarized or witnessed by an attesting witness, such as a postmaster. Mississippi voters who have questions about the voting process should call the 866-OUR-VOTE Election Protection hotline to speak with a trained, non-partisan legal volunteer.
The full complaint can be found here.