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Mississippi: How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts in the 2020 Election

What you need to know, including key deadlines, how to vote by mail, and more.

Grace Han/Thrillist

The lead up to the 2020 General Election on November 3 has us all participating in a new kind of debate: How do we guarantee our votes count amid the COVID-19 pandemic? If you reside or vote in Mississippi, you've likely heard discussions about the state's absentee voting regulations, which remain stringent despite mail-in voting expansion in other states. Ironically, this makes the required steps and deadlines for registering and voting in the Hospitality State a bit more tedious, but we assure you that it's not as complicated as it appears on jargon-y government websites. 

Mississippi clearly prefers that you do things in person, on the day of the election -- the state has no early voting system, nor does it have no-excuse absentee voting. It does allow mail-in voting registration, and many folks will qualify for the absentee ballot (more on that later). As you read through this list of deadlines and instructions, remember that the dates you mail things are all suggestions, and that the best way to guarantee your registration and ballot is counted is to send everything as early as possible. 

What’s the deadline to register to vote in Mississippi?

You're allowed to register to vote by mail or in person up to 30 days before the election, meaning the voter registration deadline for the November 3, 2020 election is October 5, 2020. If you go the mail-in route, the letter must be postmarked by October 5. 

How to register to vote in Mississippi

You can see if you're already registered to vote using Mississippi's aptly named Y'all Vote online voter information tool. If you aren't registered, you can either send this form to your local election official 30 days before the election, or contact that election official's office to find out about in-person registration options. If you're registering to vote by mail, here's what the state requires you to provide in terms of identification with your application:

"If you are registering for the first time in Mississippi and DO NOT have a Mississippi driver’s license or social security number, you must send with this application a copy of a current and valid photo ID or a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document that shows your name and address in this county," according to the application form. 

It's not possible to register online.

Once again, send your registration as early as possible. The primaries highlighted the issue of missing postmarks on registrations and ballots, meaning that some late forms were not counted even if they were sent by the deadline.

Can I vote early?

Mississippi doesn't offer early voting, but you may be able to request an absentee ballot if you can't go to the polls. More on that soon.

Can I vote by mail?

Mississippi's relationship to mail-in voting is complicated. It's one of the slowest states to expand its mail-in voting, and you still need to cite an excuse to get an absentee ballot. Unfortunately, a large chunk of Mississippi residents do not qualify. You can vote by mail if you are 65 years-old or older, have a disability (temporary or permanent), are a Mississippi resident living outside the territorial US, are a commissioned or enlisted member of the armed forces, are required to be at work while polls are open, will be outside of the US on Election Day, or are a college student living away. The state also recently added that you can request an absentee ballot if you're under a physician-imposed COVID-19 quarantine or caring for someone who is. Here's the full list of people who qualify. 

"If someone calls and says I just don’t want to go to the polls and there’s no underlying reason to go with that, there’s no category you would be able to comply with to get a ballot if that is the case,” Harrison County Circuit Clerk Connie Ladner told local station WLOX.

If COVID-19 is a huge concern for you, there are a few potential routes to take here. Mississippi polls are open from 7am to 7pm, so if your schedule looks a bit like that, you might have a shot at getting an absentee ballot. Certain medical conditions that make you vulnerable to COVID-19 may also be considered temporary or permanent disabilities, depending. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a person is considered as having a disability if they have "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities." The act does not name the disabilities specifically. 

How to request an absentee ballot in Mississippi

You can request an absentee ballot by calling your county election official, or requesting one via this handy vote.org toolThe state recommends you request a mail-in absentee ballot at least a week before Election Day, but since the ballot is getting sent by mail, get started as early as you can.

Check out the Mississippi Secretary of State's comprehensive, step-by-step guide for applying for an absentee ballot.

Is there a way to track my absentee ballot? How can I make sure it’s counted?

You can track your absentee ballot by keeping part of the tracking label and searching the letter via the USPS's website. The most reliable way to track a letter is to add certified mail service at the time of mailing, which requires that you go to the post office.

As for making sure your absentee ballot counts, there are a few key things you can do: follow all of the instructions, meet the deadlines for each step of the absentee voting process, and make sure your signature matches what's on file in your voter registration. It's also always a good idea to avoid damage to your voting materials so that your ballot isn't thrown out on some sort of technicality. If you have any questions or concerns about this, you can call your local election official

How can I stay safe while voting in person?

Not everyone will qualify for an absentee ballot in Mississippi, so it's important for you to review COVID-19 safety guidelines and plan your trip to the polls accordingly. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has issued several recommendations for how to keep yourself and others safe while voting in person this November.

Here's a rundown of what the CDC recommends, according to its official election guidance page:

  • Wear a mask. 
  • Keep a distance of at least six feet from others.
  • Wash your hands both before and after leaving your polling location.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol frequently throughout your time inside the polling place, especially after touching surfaces.
  • If you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth with a tissue or the inside of your elbow.
  • Don't try to disinfect the voting machine or equipment, but sanitize before and after touching it.  
  • Try to vote when your polling place isn't as busy. Drive-bys are always a good idea. 
  • Verify that you're registered to vote before you leave home, and make sure to bring any necessary documents. In Mississippi, those voting in person at a polling location must present one of the following forms of photo ID: a driver’s license; a government issued photo ID card; a US passport; a government employee photo identification card; a firearms license; a student photo ID issued by an accredited Mississippi university, college, or community/junior college; a US military photo ID; a tribal photo ID; any other photo ID issued by any branch, department, agency, or entity of the US government or any state government; or a Mississippi Voter Identification Card 
  • Bring your own black ink pen or stylus (but check in with a poll worker before using it). 

If possible, fill out a sample ballot at home that you can use to speed up casting your ballot at the polling location. 

Mississippi officials have also detailed COVID-19 safety precautions at polling places, including cleaning procedures and personal protective equipment requirements. While the state strongly urges everyone to wear a mask when they vote, it says voters are not required to wear face masks at polling locations and that nobody will be turned away/prevented from voting should they refuse to wear one. If you forget your mask, poll workers should have some on hand to provide to you.

Additional Mississippi voting resources

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Ruby Anderson is a News Writer at Thrillist. Send your tips to randerson@thrilllist.com.