Learn the vote by mail options for certain Mississippi voters vulnerable to COVID-19

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JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – Mississippi has two election days, one later this month and the other in November but will COVID-19 alter how we gather at the polls or cast votes at all? 

There are chances your county will offer more options to mail in your vote or relocate your precinct and keep stations stocked with PPE. 

Both Secretary of state Michael Watson and Hinds County Circuit Clerk Zack Wallace told us the state has been in good communication at all levels to roll out social distancing guidelines and give those vulnerable all necessary options to cast their vote. 

Since taking office, Secretary Michael Watson has looked far to figure out how you safely hold elections in a pandemic. 

“We did Zoom interviews with Israel and saw what their elections looked like,” Secretary Watson told us. “During the COVID situation, we also spoke to South Korea and Taiwan.”

Using $4.7 million given to the state from the CARES Act, Secretary Watson began stocking every county with PPE and disinfectants. 

“The hand washing/sanitizer stations coming in and out of the polls,” Secretary Watson said. “Number two let’s make sure we have masks, gloves, and face shields for our poll workers. If you’re in a touch screen election you’re going to have either a paper straw or a stylist, so you don’t have to touch the machine.”

“Each voter will have their own disposable pen,” Hinds County Election Commissioner Toni Johnson added. “So, they won’t have to swap pens back and forth.”

Watson is against a broad statewide mail-in ballot system but acknowledged some people may be to go to a crowded precinct and he has laid out separate mail-in options certain people can take. 

“If you’re 65 or older, if you’re permanently or temporarily disabled if you’re traveling that day, for instance, a student or nurse,” Secretary Watson explained.

State lawmakers are also debating if COVID-19 can count as an excuse to cast your vote as absentee but if a decision is not reached Watson will allow counties to decide those options. 

“I will allow them to vote with no problem at all,” Hinds County Circuit Clerk Zack Wallace said. “Maybe I will ask them 2-3 follow up questions about the environment they’ve been going around. By using maybe, the temporary disability I have no problem letting them vote.”

Circuit Clerk Wallace also announced people can come into the Hinds County office and vote in person starting Sep. 23. to lower foot traffic on Election Day.

For Hinds County voters COVID-19 has also forced some polling stations to temporarily close. Federation Towers and First Baptist Church Activities center voters will now report to Sumner Hill Jr. High in Clinton. Christ United Methodist Church on Old Canton voters will go to ascension Lutheran church and true worship on Clinton Blvd. will relocate next door to fire station 15.

Secretary Watson is seeking to change this state law, but right now each polling station is limited to no more than nine workers on each shift. At a minimum, every booth and table will stay six feet apart. 

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