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Lawmakers move bill to eliminate 5-day period to count mailed ballots

The Senate Elections Committee on Tuesday advanced legislation to eliminate the five days local elections workers have to count mail-in absentee ballots. 

The majority-Republican committee passed Senate Bill 2579 with little debate, sending it to the full Senate. 

“In my opinion, when we have votes that are being counted after Election Day like this, whether there’s any bad intent or not, it’s not received by the public well,” Senate Elections Committee Chairman Jeremy England, author of the bill, said.

To address concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the GOP-dominated Legislature passed a law to allow local election workers to count mailed absentee ballots for up to five days after the election date, but only if the ballots were postmarked by the election date. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed the bill into law. 

The legislation comes at a time when the Republican National Committee, the Mississippi GOP and the Libertarian Party of Mississippi have filed federal litigation against Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson and several local elections officials to prevent the five-day timeframe from being used in federal elections.

A veterans advocacy group and a disability rights organization are currently attempting to intervene in the litigation to argue the lawsuit should be dismissed. U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. has not issued any substantive rulings on the suit.  

England, R-Vancleave, told Mississippi Today that the pending federal litigation did not have any influence over his decision to advance the legislation. 

“It’s time to move this back to the way we had it before COVID,” England said. 

The second-term lawmaker also said he plans to pass legislation out of the Senate committee that creates in-person absentee voting and reforms the state’s campaign finance laws.

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