A civil rights group is suing top officials in Mississippi for giving voters very little time to cast absentee ballots in Tuesday’s special runoff Senate election, making it nearly impossible for some votes to be counted. Democrat Mike Espy faces appointed Republican incumbent Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith Tuesday after neither received a majority of the vote in the November 6 election. According to a federal lawsuit filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, election officials did not send absentee ballots for the run-off until Nov. 17. Many out-of-state voters did not receive the ballots until Thanksgiving time. Under state law, absentee ballots must have been submitted by Monday, Nov. 26 at 5 p.m. Absentee ballots in the state must also be notarized, which means many voters had just one business day to get the ballot stamped and delivered to their county elections office, Mississippi Today reported. “Mississippi’s absentee ballot procedures stand out as some of the most burdensome in this country,” the lawsuit says, accusing the state of violating the Constitution.
The voting group is representing three voters who did not receive absentee ballots by Nov. 20, which made it virtually impossible for them to submit their votes to be counted on time. The group asked the judge to order the state to count all ballots that are postmarked by Election Day.
Even before the short timeline provided to vote in the runoff, Mississippi made it far more difficult to vote via absentee ballots than other states, Mother Jones reported. Only certain voters are allowed to request absentee ballots and they must be requested in person or by mail from the county clerk. Voters must request absentee ballots for every individual election. The requirement to have absentee ballots notarized is also problematic since some notaries charge money for services, even though the Constitution prohibits states from forcing people to pay to vote.
A voter who cast absentee ballots for both the general and runoff elections would have had to submit four documents on four separate occasions to the county clerk. Voters would have had to pay for expedited mail in order for the ballots to arrive in time.