DESOTO COUNTY, Miss. (WMC) - Election officials in DeSoto County are warning long lines are likely when voters head to the polls in the 2020 presidential election on Tuesday, November 3. That’s because Mississippi does not have no-excuse early voting for all citizens.
The DeSoto County courthouse in Hernando is the only place in the county where people can vote in person ahead of the election, called in-person absentee voting. Tuesday afternoon WMC Action News 5 found dozens of people waiting in line. The last day to vote in-person absentee in the county is Saturday, October 31.
“That’s what we’re here doing, early voting, because we figure it’s going to be packed on Election Day,” said Don Newton as he waited in line to vote Tuesday with his wife.
The line snaked through the Desoto County courthouse with eager voters looking to cast their ballot ahead of Election Day. In Mississippi, these voters are considered absentee voters and all must qualify. Qualifications include being 65 years or older, disabled, or being unable to vote at your polling place on Election Day.
Voters in line said the state should have early voting options, as opposed to simply in-person absentee.
“It would be more convenient if Mississippi did have early voting,” said Maude Wayne.
The Mississippi House passed measures in 2016 and 2017 to create early voting, but they did not advance in the Mississippi Senate. Efforts by the state’s Democrats to create early voting in 2020 given the COVID-19 pandemic did not yield results.
In-person absentee lines have been recorded at multiple counties across the state in recent days, especially in the more populated areas around Jackson.
“It’s definitely a record-breaking year,” said Danny Klein, Chairman of the DeSoto County Election Commission.
Klein said in 2016 roughly 6,000 absentee ballots were cast. So far this year there’ve been 10,000. Klein told WMC Action News 5 that he believes the state’s largest counties like DeSoto need early voting.
Without it, residents will be waiting in lines on Election Day especially in a year when voters nationally are turning out. DeSoto County has roughly 120,000 registered voters, the third-highest in the state.
“For counties like DeSoto, Harrison, Hinds, it’s a big deal,” said Klein . “They will be significantly long all day long.”
WMC Action News 5 political analyst Michael Nelson said the election this year could push Mississippi lawmakers to change the voting process, given the national attention on voter accessibility.
“Mississippi is still back in the era where you vote in person on Election Day,” said Nelson. “I would guess that this is the last election in Mississippi that is this strict in terms of how people can vote.”
Nelson said a lack of voting options could impact the U.S. Senate race in the state, as Democrat Mike Espy targets incumbent Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith. Espy is focusing on the Black vote.
“Mike Espy is really counting on an unusually high turnout among African-American voters. And the harder it is to cast your vote, the harder it is to get that big turnout," he said.
Voters in the qualifying categories in Mississippi can also vote absentee by mail. Mail-in ballots in Mississippi must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and received at the county circuit clerk’s office by Nov. 10 to be counted.
Klein said officials are administering “curbside” voting in DeSoto county, where a paper ballot can be delivered to a voter’s vehicle. But he cautioned voters to not depend on that on Election Day, as the wait could be longer than standing in line at a polling place.
Election officials also ask that you wear a mask and observe social distance. Sanitizer will be provided in the nearly four dozen DeSoto County polling places on Election Day.