Miss Supreme Court says voters vulnerable to coronavirus don’t automatically qualify for postal votes

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Mississippi voters more vulnerable to the coronavirus due to pre-existing conditions are not necessarily qualified to vote by mail, the state Supreme Court ruled on Friday.

The ruling overturned a ruling by Hinds County Chancellery Judge Denise Owens earlier this month in which she said state law “allows any voter with pre-existing conditions that make that COVID-19 presents a higher risk of serious illness or death from voting by absent ballot during the COVID-19 pandemic, ”according to Mississippi Today.

The state Supreme Court said Hinds interpreted changes to the law too broadly earlier this year.

“Having a pre-existing condition that puts a voter at a higher risk does not automatically create a temporary incapacity for the purpose of postal voting,” Justice Dawn Beam wrote in the majority opinion, according to Mississippi Today.

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Current state law allows postal voting for anyone over the age of 65, with a permanent disability, who will be out of the county and those working on polling day when polling stations are open. The state does not have widespread in-person advance voting.

Secretary of State Michael Watson, a Republican, appealed Owens’ decision, writing through lawyers that “the narrow excuse of absenteeism from the law does not extend to voters without underlying “ physical disability ” simply because they are afraid of contracting COVID-19 at the polls, or voters voluntarily follow public health guidelines. ”

Earlier this year, state lawmakers made temporary changes to the law that allow voters with “a doctor-imposed quarantine due to COVID-19” or a voter who “cares for someone” dependent who is quarantined by a doctor due to COVID-19 ”To obtain a postal vote.

The Mississippi Civil Liberties Union and the Mississippi Center for Justice filed a lawsuit in August in Hinds County Chancellery Court on behalf of a number of Mississippi voters with pre-existing conditions such as asthma and diabetes.

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The lawsuit argued voters with pre-existing conditions should be able to get a postal vote because the state health official, who is a doctor, has advised people with such conditions to avoid large public gatherings. .

Mississippi Center for Justice attorney Rob McDuff said on Friday that, in Supreme Court filings, Watson acknowledged that people with conditions that meet the definition of “physical disability” can vote absent.

“In documents filed with the Supreme Court, the Secretary of State acknowledged that people with pre-existing conditions that meet the definition of ‘physical disability’, and who increase the risk of serious consequences from COVID-19 can vote absent , including four of the plaintiffs whose conditions include kidney disease, lupus, diabetes and severe asthma, ”he said, Mississippi Today reported.

“The Mississippi Supreme Court has never repudiated this statement by the secretary … The secretary said that such conditions allow absentee voting if they, like the conditions of the four plaintiffs, meet the dictionary definition of a ‘disability’. “.”

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The Center for Justice and the ACLU have said they hope the legislature will resume its sessions to protect those vulnerable to the virus, adding that the state may also expand in-person postal voting or in-person advance voting.

Conversely, in Louisiana last week, a federal judge ruled that voters who have conditions that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says make people more vulnerable to the virus should be allowed to vote by mail.

Many states have early in-person voting and some also have no-excuse postal voting.

President Trump has repeatedly expressed unfounded concerns that widespread postal voting fraud could rig elections.

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While postal and postal voting is a normal part of every election in many states, many more Americans plan to vote this way in 2020 due to the pandemic.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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