JACKSON • A Democratic lawmaker and several advocates filed a proposed ballot initiative Thursday that would allow for 10 days of early, in-person voting in Mississippi.

The Magnolia State has among the strictest voting laws in the nation, and is one of just six states that bans early voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. It allows only in-person absentee voting for residents who are over 65, disabled, out of town on Election Day, or have one of a small handful of other valid excuses.

The proposed ballot initiative would make any voter eligible to show up to their local clerk's office to vote early.

Rep. Hester Jackson McCray, a freshman Democrat from DeSoto County, said numerous voters told her they wanted no-excuse early voting when she was running for office in 2019.

When lawmakers refused to pass early voting during the pandemic, leading to long Election Day lines — and again refused to pass early voting legislation during this year's legislative session — McCray said she decided to take action by sponsoring a ballot initiative.

“We failed to vote on even one of the five early-voting House bills, nor the four early-voting Senate bills," McCray told reporters Thursday. "None of those nine bills made it out of committee, even though legislators know that the people want early voting.”

The language of the initiative says voters will be granted no fewer than 10 days of early voting from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. before each election at their local clerk's office. Additional early-voting locations could be added depending on the number of registered voters in a given county or city.

McCray was joined at a Thursday news conference by the initiative's author, Kelly Jacobs, who explained that in order for early voting to reach the 2023 ballot, advocates will need to collect at least 106,190 certified voter signatures that are evenly distributed across the state's former five congressional districts.

Jacobs expects the initiative's final language to be approved by the Mississippi Secretary of State's Office within about two months. From there, the early voting advocates have a year to collect enough signatures. The Legislature gets to review the initiative before it goes on the ballot, and potentially offer alternative language.

“It’s going to take a lot of manpower, like it normally does," Jacobs said of collecting signatures. "We are going to build coalitions with groups that are interested. We know many groups are interested in early voting. And we will consider raising funds so we can pay people to collect the signatures.”

LUKE RAMSETH is a Jackson-based reporter covering the 2021 session of the Mississippi Legislature for the Daily Journal. Email him at lramseth@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @lramseth.

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