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A new lawsuit says Mississippi absentee voting law is confusing

ACKSON, Miss. (Ben Caxton)— A new lawsuit says Mississippi’s absentee voting law is confusing and could be applied inconsistently during the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Hinds County Chancery Court. It asks a judge to issue a statewide declaration that would allow absentee voting by people with health conditions that could put them in extra danger because of the highly contagious virus.

Plaintiffs include people who have had cancer or who have other conditions, including lupus and asthma.

The lawsuit says the state Health Department recommends that all people avoid “large social gatherings and community events” and that people who have chronic conditions or are in poor health should “stay home as much as possible.”

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“In deciding whether to attend any public gathering, particularly a polling place on election day, voters are required to consider, and are permitted to follow, public health guidance,” the lawsuit says. “They have the right to follow that guidance without surrendering the right to vote.”

Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi and the Mississippi Center for Justice filed the suit against Secretary of State Michael Watson, who is the state’s top elections officer, and against circuit clerks in Hinds and Rankin counties, who oversee elections in those places. The lawsuit was filed in Hinds County because it’s home to the seat of state government.

Mississippi does not allow widespread early voting. Instead, state law says absentee voting is available to anyone who is 65 or older, or for voters of any age who are permanently disabled or will be out of their home county on election day. People who have to work on election day when the polls are open also are allowed to vote absentee.

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