To the Editor:
Thank you to The Star-Herald for the August 27 editorial commenting on Mississippi’s failure to change voting laws and make it safer to vote in the upcoming nationwide November 3 election, which will take place in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic. This failure to act will have an especially dangerous impact on those age 65 or older, due to their increased risk of death from COVID-19 infection. The United States now leads the world in confirmed infections, and the elderly are particularly affected.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website states that “In fact 8 out of 10 COVID-19 related deaths reported in the United States have been among adults aged 65 years and older.” Given, however, that President Trump has now commandeered the CDC for his political campaign purposes, self-anointing himself Physician in Chief, any information published by the CDC is now possibly politically corrupted. A recent example is the CDC’s proclamation that those known to be exposed to COVID-19 don’t need to bother with getting tested. Medical experts universally do not support this recommendation, but it does appear to support Trump’s political agenda to favorably manipulate virus numbers to enhance his re-election.
Mississippi though has its own Department of Health (MSDH), and its numbers do lend support to the CDC’s claim about COVID-19 deaths in those 65 and over. Mississippi reports 2,399 deaths as of August 20. Of these, 2,033 are in those aged 60 and over. This calculates to a whopping 83% of deaths (or about 8 out of 10). Mississippi does not provide an actual breakdown for age 65 and over deaths, but instead provides one for age 60 and over. The 83% is thus a slightly higher percentage because ages 60-64 are also included. Nevertheless, MSDH numbers help confirm the CDC’s report that 8 out of 10 COVID-19 deaths are in those age 65 and older, about the same as 83%. Additionally, even though Gov. Reeves has an inclination to be Trump’s hand puppet, MSDH presently doesn’t appear as politically infiltrated as the national CDC, so its information is more trustworthy.
In light of this mortality data, the MSDH’s website has a section titled in bold, “Older Adults and People at High Risk.” It states that “people at risk for serious illness from COVID-19 are adults 65 and over…” Further stated is, "These people should take precautions at all times to limit their exposure to others who may be ill.” The first precaution listed is that they should “stay home as much as possible.” Gov. Reeves has also robotically repeated for months on end, “If you’re 65 and over, stay at home.”
Given MSDH’s recommendations, repeatedly regularly by the Governor, what has Mississippi chosen to do about its voting laws to make it safer for persons age 65 and older to vote? Has anything been done which would allow them to take precautions and stay at home, yet still participate in the voting process? Especially worrisome for venturing out to vote or get notarizations is the concern about asymptomatic virus carriers, those out and about spreading infection without their or other's knowledge! As Dr. Dobb’s has reiterated, “One should assume that everyone is infected." Unfortunately, as The Star-Herald in part pointed out, the answer about what has been done is “nothing” or “nothing much at all.” The legislature considered changes, but ultimately refused, in part due to the diatribe by Trump that voting by mail processes are riddled with fraud. Sen. David Blount of Jackson meanwhile has said that Mississippi has “the most restrictive, onerous, difficult vote by mail laws in the nation.”
Actually, Mississippi doesn’t really have a vote by mail system in place. Other states who did not quickly enacted such a system due to the pandemic. What Mississippi still has in place is an absentee voting system which does allow a ballot to be mailed in, if eligibility requirements to vote absentee are met. Persons age 65 and over, as well as persons with disabilities, are among the eligible. Mississippi is the only state, however, to require two notarizations for a person age 65 to vote absentee ballot by mail. First, the application to receive an absentee ballot must be notarized. Secondly when the ballot is ready to mail in, the envelope too must be notarized. For those with disabilities, the rule is slightly less onerous in that while witnesses are required, notarizations are not.
Given the legislature’s refusal to do much, either to enact a vote by mail system, or ease notarization requirements, the next question is whether Mississippi has taken any other actions to make the absentee mail in process easier and possibly safer for those 65 and over. Again, the answer thus far is no! In other states the answer is yes! In Missouri, for example, which has authorized voting by mail, but with a notarization requirement, the Secretary of State, aided by community groups, has begun compiling a state wide list of “volunteer free notaries.” These notaries, with virus safety precautions in place, will provide free notarizations for mail in ballots. State offices have also been identified which will have available free notaries (masks required!). In some places, public libraries are setting up as volunteer free notary sites, along with some banking institutions. In addition, an online electronic notarization, a form of tele-notarization is being set up!
Is anything similar being done, or even thought about, by Mississippi’s Secretary of State, Republican Michael Watson? As The Star-Herald suggested, the primary Republican interest in voting is an almost fanatical concern over voter fraud, rather than striving to make the right to vote easier to exercise. Watson publicly proclaimed his concern over voter fraud when he ran for office. One wonders if this is why he has taken no steps whatsoever to facilitate notarization of mail in ballots, after the legislature failed to act. His presumption could be that facilitating absentee mail in ballots would be facilitating fraud. His presumption could be as well, however, that not doing anything enhances votes for Trump's re-election, given that nationwide polls show that more Democrats than Republicans plan to vote by mail if they can.
If anyone age 65 and over (or for that matter any other eligible persons) decides to vote absentee by mail in ballot in Mississippi, possibly for the first time, wouldn’t it be helpful to at least know where and when volunteer local notaries are conveniently and safely available? Come November 3, Mississippi’s state wide mask requirement may no longer be in effect. Yet, it is difficult to believe, despite Trump’s claim otherwise, that the “China virus” as he calls it, will have miraculously disappeared by then. What could occur instead is a virus surge with Fall’s arrival, compounded by the flu.
One favorable thing to be aware of though is that in 2017 the Mississippi Code (state laws) was amended. Now all notaries in Mississippi must waive fees for notarizing both the application to request an absentee ballot and the ballot envelope itself. Prior to 2017, notaries could decide to waive the fee under certain circumstances, but they were not required by law to do so.
Incidentally, if any notaries or offices with notaries happen to read this and would be available for providing free notarizations, with safety precautions in place, I wonder if that information could possibly be posted or possibly provided to those places people might call asking about the location of notaries. for example, the public library or City Hall. That's just a thought! The notarization requirement also puts notaries themselves at risk!
Beverly E. Johnson