Blount pushing for ‘common sense’ election law reforms
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The start of the 2021 legislative session is only weeks away, and District 29 Sen. David Blount will again push legislation to change what he says are the “some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country.”
“We need to make it easier to register to vote. Almost all states and almost all Southern states have online voter registration. We need to allow for early voting in Mississippi for those who choose to vote early in person … For people who are eligible to vote by mail, we need to eliminate the notary requirement on the application.
“These are all policies that most states already have. They’re totally in the national mainstream and in place for most Americans.”
Blount wouldn’t speculate whether election reform measures would pass during the 2021 session.
The senator has submitted bills to change election laws for years, but most have failed to make it out of the Senate Elections Committee.
The COVID-19 pandemic, though, could force lawmakers to look at potential changes as a way to keep voters safe.
During the 2020 session, state legislators eased some restrictions for absentee voting, including allowing ballots to be counted if they’re postmarked by the day of the election and received up to five days after the election.
COVID-19 was also added as a reason that individuals could seek an absentee ballot.
However, Blount said the changes don’t go far enough.
Among reforms, Blount would like the state to implement no-fault early voting.
Right now, voters can vote by absentee ballot but must meet one of a dozen or so criteria to do so.
Criteria includes being on deployment on Election Day and having work demands that would prevent you from going to the polls on Election Day, according to the Mississippi Secretary of State’s website.
“I’m talking about common sense solutions that are already in place in the vast majority of states,” Blount said. “We have to have the same options as other states.”
Prior to COVID, states that offered no-excuse early voting included Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCLS).
Other states, including Alabama and Arkansas, relaxed early voting rules in the wake of the COVID pandemic, according to a report by National Public Radio.
Blount is planning to author other bills as well, including a measure to allow for online voter registration, to do away with the notary requirement tied to mail-in voting and to restore the right to vote for convicted felons after they’ve served their sentences.
Right now, most of Mississippi’s neighboring states allow for online registration, including Louisiana, Tennessee, and Alabama.
Blount said there’s “zero chance” of fraud, because individuals would still have to vote in person and would still have to show their state-issued identification.
As for the notary requirement, individuals seeking an absentee ballot by mail must have their ballot application and ballot envelope must be notarized. Additionally, the voter must fill out the ballot in view of the notary, according to Nationalnotary.org.
“Mississippi is the only state in the country that requires two documents to be notarized,” Blount said. “That is cumbersome and unnecessary, particularly during a pandemic.”
Whether election reform will pass during the 2021 session remains to be seen. While the session is slated to start January 5 and run for 90 days, Blount said it could be truncated because of virus concerns.
Meanwhile, Gov. Tate Reeves has signaled that he is likely unwilling to support major voting law changes.
In a tweet Monday, the governor announced that Mississippi’s electors had cast their ballots for President Donald Trump.
As part of the tweet, he went on to say that Mississippi’s election was “not upended by last-minute schemes to radically alter voting methods. Election integrity is vital.”
Reeves came out in support of Texas’ failed lawsuit to overturn election results in four swing states that went to President-elect Joe Biden.
At a press conference on December 9, he said some states bent to outside pressures to change the laws and commended the chairs of the House Apportionment and Elections Committee and Senate Elections Committee for not bowing to that pressure.
“In many instances, those on the left, particularly liberal groups, first tried to get legislatures to change election laws, so as to allow for very different election systems than those states had run in the past,” he said. “In some instances, they were successful in doing so.
“In those states in which those far-left groups were unable to convince legislatures to change how the ballot systems work, they then sued and, in some instances, went to state court, and in some instances, went to federal court.”
He said changes made in those states “significantly changed the way in absentee ballots were done in the state,” and allowed for “significantly more mail-in voting.”
In a follow-up email, Reeves’ Press Secretary Bailey Martin refused to say whether the governor would support no-excuse early voting or a measure to do away with the notary requirements.
The Senate Elections Committee and House Apportionment and Elections Committee chairs could not be reached for comment.
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