DESOTO COUNTY, Miss. (WMC) - Incumbent Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and her Democratic challenger, former Congressman Mike Espy are making their final case to voters as we approach Nov. 3.
Mississippi does not have no-excuse early voting, just in-person absentee voting for those who qualify. Election officials in DeSoto County are already warning that long lines are expected at polling places on Election Day.
Espy is counting on heavy turnout from African-Americans in the state to mount a competitive challenge or victory against Hyde-Smith. But if there are substantial lines at the polls, one expert said it could discourage people from voting altogether.
“What we’re seeing is that issues like early voting and absentee voting and the extent to which they’re available to as many people as possible has become over the last few years a more politicized issue,” Dr. Conor Dowling, Associate Professor of Political Science at The University of Mississippi, said.
Dowling said resistance to expand early voting harms voters of all parties.
“It does present an impediment. But it is an impediment for all voters to have to vote in person on Election Day. But it could be a greater impediment for certain areas of the state,” he said.
A poll out this week has Hyde-Smith up eight percentage points. A poll in September had her up one point, and a poll in August had her up five.
The Espy campaign kicked off a Get Out The Vote bus tour running Wednesday through Sunday, aimed at shoring up his support among African Americans. Espy is counting on Black turnout to win.
Dowling said research within political science has shown long lines tend to discourage people from voting, and those lines are typically in African-American communities.
“It certainly could be the case this hurts or has the potential to make it more difficult for the African-American community in Mississippi to vote. I think the Espy campaign has done a lot of messaging on this, on the importance of voting,” Dowling said.
Speaking at a Jackson event Thursday, Hyde-Smith said Republicans offer the best chance to rebuild the nation’s economy from COVID-19 distress. Hyde-Smith has the benefit of running in a state where President Donald Trump remains popular.
“Let’s stick with pro-growth policies that lift everyone and reject the big government, higher taxes, and more regulations that Democrats promised to impose,” she said.
Espy, appearing virtually at the same event, said his candidacy represents a chance for a new Mississippi, pointing to Hyde-Smith as stuck in the past. Espy has campaigned on healthcare and Medicaid expansion in the state.
“It has become clear in the last two years that my opponent Cindy Hyde-Smith is holding Mississippi back with her jokes of public hangings, with her glorification on Confederate symbols,” he said.
As all eyes turn to Nov. 3 and expected lines at polling places, Dowling said it remains to be seen if lawmakers will find the political will to expand voting options in the years to come.
“I’m not sure it would have enough momentum necessarily in the immediate future, but it could. It certainly could. But I’m not as bullish on it as other folks are,” he said. “I think it’s possible that there could be more exemptions for who is eligible for an absentee ballot.”
Saturday, Oct. 31 is the last day to vote in-person absentee in Mississippi.