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As a key deadline approaches, Mississippi activists work to register new voters

by Najee El-Amin —

In 2016, Mississippi’s voter turnout rate took a nosedive as 70,000 eligible citizens did not show up to cast a ballot. Activists have been trying to figure out why this happened and how to get African Americans, a powerful voting bloc, energized and back to the polls.

Their efforts are coming up against an important deadline. In Mississippi, an application for voter registration must be postmarked or hand delivered to the Circuit Clerk’s Office no later than 30 days before an election, which this year happens to be on Monday, Oct. 5.

These registration efforts are taking place as Americans social distance, and COVID-19 has taken nearly 3,000 lives statewide. Now officials have to worry about both keeping the public safe, as well as healthy. Fortunately, for the city of Holly Springs, MS., these obstacles are motivating a few brave souls to get out and do what’s necessary to get people to the polls.

Dr. A.J. Stovall, professor and head of the Social Science division at Rust College, is one of the people leading the effort. Stovall long has been an advocate for voting but he believes that there is an even greater sense of urgency this year.

“As a result of the events over the summer, the political consciousness has been heightened.” Stovall said. “It’s gonna get more people out to vote than normal.”

Stovall has partnered with the Andrew Goodman Foundation whose mission is to empower youth by getting them registered to vote and providing the resources necessary to get them to the polls.

Low youth turnout is part of a generational trend in the U.S. As this demographic continues to grow, they have the potential to be a powerful voting bloc, Stovall believes.

Although young voter turnout has been a focal point, Marshall County hasn’t forgotten about the rest of the population. Circuit Clerk Monet Bell Autry wants to assure the residents of Holly Springs they are not taking voters’ health concerns lightly.

“We’re doing everything humanly possible to keep them safe during the election cycle,” Autry said.

Masks, gloves, rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer and virtually any other cleaning supply one could think of was on her list of preventative measures the public will have access to on election day.

With all of this in place, the circuit clerk’s office expects that voter turnout could be at an all-time high.

“We’re preparing for between nineteen and twenty-thousand peak active voters to show up this year and we might have more,” Autry said.

Marshall County citizens who are 65 or older, disabled or not currently residing in the area have the option of applying for a mail-in ballot. The state of Mississippi, unlike many other states, does not accept COVID-19 concerns or pre-existing conditions as a valid reason to vote absentee.

Absentee ballots must be postmarked and sent back as soon as possible, the Marshall County clerk’s office recommends. They will not be accepted after Nov. 2. The final day to vote by absentee ballot in the Marshall County clerk’s office is Oct 31, a spokesman said.

Ultimately, the city of Holly Springs and Marshall County are working to ensure access to the polls in an election that could prove to be historic.

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