JACKSON — Mississippi is updating a voter registration deadline to meet a requirement of a 1993 federal law, giving people a bit more time to register so they can vote in runoff elections for federal offices.
The state has required people to be registered at least 30 days before the first round of voting in an election. Runoffs happen three weeks later.
The Mississippi NAACP, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Mississippi Center for Justice sent a letter to the state’s top election official in June. It said that under the National Voter Registration Act, people should be able to vote in runoffs if they’re registered at least 30 days before the runoff, not 30 days before the initial election.
The secretary of state’s office has agreed, in a letter written Thursday and released Friday.
“A qualified voter who registers to vote thirty days before a runoff election for a federal office will be permitted to cast a ballot in that runoff election,” Mississippi Assistant Attorney General Harold Pizzetta wrote on behalf of Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.
The state attorney general’s office had previously issued an opinion saying people must be registered at least 30 days before an election to vote in that election’s runoff. Although attorney general’s opinions are not legally binding, they provide guidance for state agencies, and the secretary of state’s office had followed the opinion on the registration deadlines.
In urging Mississippi officials to update the voter registration deadline for runoffs, the NAACP and the two legal groups wrote that the state’s procedure could deprive some qualified voters of the chance to cast ballots.
“Eligible Mississippians will continue to suffer the denial of their right to register to vote up to thirty days prior to future federal runoff elections — including in the event the November 6, 2018, special election for United States Senator goes to a runoff on November 27, 2018,” they wrote.
The special election is to fill the final two years of a six-year Senate term. Longtime Republican Sen. Thad Cochran retired in April, and Gov. Phil Bryant appointed the state agriculture commissioner, Cindy Hyde-Smith, to temporarily succeed Cochran. Hyde-Smith faces three challengers in the nominally nonpartisan special election, and there will be a runoff if nobody receives a majority of votes Nov. 6.
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