Absentee voting expected to be high due to ongoing virus

Liza Young, Lee County deputy circuit clerk, assists Tootie and Tom Murry Friday as they register to cast absentee ballots Friday.  

Cooler weather and election season have arrived together. As temperatures drop to more tolerable levels, the election is heating up. Last week, voters in Lee County and across the state began requesting and casting absentee ballots. With the ongoing virus pandemic, absentee voting statewide is expected to be much greater than usual as people try to avoid catching the dangerous and potentially deadly COVID-19 disease. “It has been steady,” Lee County Circuit Clerk Camille Roberts Dulaney said about the first week of voting. For the first six days, from Monday, September 21, through Monday, September 28, Dulaney said approximately 1,200 absentee ballots had been cast or requested to be mailed to voters. If that rate continues – and Dulaney said there is usually a lull around the middle of October – the total seven weeks’ tally of absentee ballots could conceivably top 8,000. Dulaney said there is no way of accurately predicting the ultimate number of absentee votes. Several weeks ago, Carl Patterson, chairman of the Lee County Election Commission, said he expected to see about 5,000 absentee ballots this year, an increase of about 43 percent from the usual 3,500 or so. He said all absentee ballots will be counted election night, November 3. Dulaney said voters should check to make sure they are still registered and registered in the correct voting precinct. The deadline for that and for registering to vote is next Monday, October 5. At this point, anyone needing to register will likely fare best by doing so in person at the Circuit Clerk’s office in the Lee County Justice Center on Jefferson Street. The office is open today until 5 p.m., tomorrow (Friday) and Monday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., and Saturday, 8 a.m.-noon. Dulaney said registration forms are available at the front entrance of the Justice Center on the security deputies’ desks. They can be filled out there and the deputies will deliver them to the clerk’s office. Absentee ballots may be cast in person at the clerk’s office Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Dulaney said the busiest times are usually around the noon lunch hour and the last hour of the day. The office will also be open for absentee voting Saturday, October 24, 8 a.m.-noon, and Saturday, October 31, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mail-in absentee ballots must be notarized, which replaces the voter ID mandate. In-person absentee voting requires showing a photo ID as well as wearing masks, social distancing and no more than four voters in the office at a time, per U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommendations. Those same rules hold true for actual voting at local precincts for the November 3 general election, which will occur 7 a.m.-7 p.m. To vote absentee, a valid reason for doing so must be met; reasons range from being over 65 years old to being out of town on election day. All the reasons may be viewed on the Secretary of State’s website at www.sos.ms.gov. Dulaney said, besides the presidential race and a U.S. Senate race, there are three local school board races and the election of Lee County’s five Election Commission members. All those local races are uncontested. There are also two initiatives on the ballot: a vote on the new state flag and approval or disapproval of medical marijuana becoming available in Mississippi. For more information on voter registration, absentee ballots or most anything regarding the election, call the Circuit Clerk’s office at 432-2300.

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