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(Jackson, Miss.) – Mississippi’s eligibility requirements to vote by absentee ballot are unconstitutional and must immediately be waived for the duration of the pandemic, a preliminary injunction motion filed today in a case against Secretary of State Michael Watson and Attorney General Lynn Fitch argues. The motion claims that in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mississippi’s Excuse and Notarization Requirements for absentee ballots and lack of notice and opportunity to cure rejections of ballots place an unconstitutional burden on the fundamental right to vote. 

The litigation, Parham v. Watson, was filed in US District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Dechert LLP are representing the plaintiffs, which include three registered voters, and two organizational plaintiffs – the League of Women Voters of Mississippi and the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP. 

“It is past time for Secretary Watson and Attorney General Fitch to focus their attention towards ensuring all Mississippi voters can safely cast their ballot this November,” said Jennifer Nwachukwu, counsel at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “These restrictions are excessively burdensome on the constitutional right to vote, and will affect communities of color, who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and therefore need an effective and fair way to vote by absentee ballot. Because they have failed to take common sense actions, we are turning to the courts for relief.” 

The preliminary injunction follows a lawsuit, which was filed in late August against Watson and Fitch, and seeks a permanent injunction against the Excuse and Notarization requirements, and an effective notice and cure process when election officials believe there is an inconsistency with a voter’s signature. 

“By filing this motion, we seek intervention from the court to ensure that Mississippi voters can vote safely during the pandemic while state officials continue to spread confusion,” said Caren Short, a senior staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “While other states have made significant progress in expanding voting accessibility during pandemic conditions, Mississippi is relentless in keeping its overly burdensome absentee voting process, which will force Mississippians to choose between their health and their vote.” 

Mississippi’s restrictions on voting by absentee ballot are not consistent with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines regarding safe voting practices, and will force thousands of Mississippi residents to sacrifice their health and well-being to cast their ballot, or perhaps lose their right to vote altogether. 

“We remain committed to ensuring that all eligible Mississippi voters have the ability to vote safely and to have their votes counted. That must include being able to do so without unreasonably exposing themselves and their family members to COVID-19,” commented Dechert LLP partner Neil Steiner. 

Read a copy of the preliminary injunction motion here