MISSISSIPPI LEGISLATURE

2020 Regular Session

To: Apportionment and Elections

By: Representatives Currie, Owen, Reynolds

House Bill 297

AN ACT TO AMEND SECTION 23-15-637, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO PROVIDE THAT ALL ABSENTEE BALLOTS CAST IN THE OFFICE OF THE REGISTRAR SHALL BE CAST ON EITHER A DIRECT RECORDING ELECTRONIC VOTING SYSTEM OR ON A BALLOT THAT IS FED THROUGH AN OPTICAL MARK READING EQUIPMENT MACHINE; TO PROVIDE THAT THE VOTING SYSTEM USED SHALL BE SEALED AT THE CLOSE OF EACH BUSINESS DAY AND SHALL REMAIN SEALED UNDER THE BEGINNING OF THE NEXT BUSINESS DAY; TO PROVIDE THAT ALL VOTES CAST BY ABSENTEE BALLOT SHALL BE FINAL; TO PROVIDE THAT NO PERSON WHO VOTES ABSENTEE BEFORE THE ELECTION SHALL BE ALLOWED TO VOTE IN PERSON ON ELECTION DAY; TO AUTHORIZE THE SECRETARY OF STATE TO PROMULGATE RULES AND REGULATIONS; TO AMEND SECTION 23-15-645, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO PROVIDE THAT ABSENTEE VOTES CAST IN THE REGISTRAR'S OFFICE SHALL BE TALLIED ON ELECTION DAY AND ANNOUNCED SIMULTANEOUSLY WITH ALL OTHER VOTES CAST ON ELECTION DAY; TO AMEND SECTION 23-15-649, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO PROVIDE THAT, FOR ALL ELECTIONS, THE ELECTION OFFICIALS SHALL PREPARE EITHER OFFICIAL BALLOTS FOR THE DIRECT RECORDING ELECTRONIC VOTING SYSTEM OR OFFICIAL BALLOTS TO BE FED THROUGH THE OPTICAL MARK READING EQUIPMENT; TO AMEND SECTIONS 23-15-715 AND 23-15-719, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO REVISE THE PROCESS BY WHICH AN ABSENT ELECTOR APPLIES TO VOTE ABSENTEE; TO PROVIDE THE PROCESS FOR AN ABSENTEE VOTER TO VOTE ABSENTEE BY MAIL; TO AMEND SECTIONS 23-15-625, 23-15-627, 23-15-629, 23-15-631, 23-15-635, 23-15-639, 23-15-641, 23-15-647, 23-15-713, 23-15-721, 23-15-731 AND 23-15-735, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO CONFORM TO THE PROVISIONS OF THIS ACT; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.

     BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:

     SECTION 1.  Section 23-15-637, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     23-15-637.  (1)  (a)  Absentee ballots received by mail, except presidential ballots as provided for in Sections 23-15-731 and 23-15-733 and except as otherwise provided by Section 23-15-699, must be received by the registrar by 5:00 p.m. on the date preceding the election; any received after such time shall be handled as provided in Section 23-15-647 and shall not be counted.

          (b)  All ballots cast by the absent elector appearing in person in the office of the registrar shall be cast on either a direct recording electronic voting system or a ballot that is fed through an optical mark reading equipment machine not later than 12:00 noon on the Saturday immediately preceding elections held on Tuesday, the Thursday immediately preceding elections held on Saturday, or the second day immediately preceding the date of elections held on other days.  At the close of business each day at the office of the registrar, the voting system used shall be sealed and not unsealed until the beginning of the next business day.

          (c)  Any votes cast by absentee ballots, whether received by mail or cast on the voting system by the absent elector appearing in person in the registrar's office, shall be final.  No person who votes absentee before the election shall appear in person to vote on election day and have his or her vote counted.

     (2)  The registrar shall deposit all absentee ballots which have been timely cast in the ballot boxes upon receipt.

     (3)  The Secretary of State shall promulgate rules and regulations necessary to ensure that when a qualified elector who is qualified to vote absentee votes by absentee ballot, either by mail or in person on either a direct recording electronic voting system or a ballot that is fed through an optical mark reading equipment machine at the registrar's office, that person's absentee vote is final and he or she may not vote at the polling place on election day.

     SECTION 2.  Section 23-15-645, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     23-15-645.  (1)  Absentee votes cast in the registrar's office on either the direct recording electronic voting system or a ballot that is fed through an optical mark reading equipment machine shall be tallied on election day and announced simultaneously with all other votes cast on election day.

     (2)  After the votes have been counted the officials shall preserve all applications, envelopes and the list of absent voters along with the mailed paper ballots and other election materials and return the same to the registrar.

     SECTION 3.  Section 23-15-649, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     23-15-649.  (1)  For all elections, * * *there shall be prepared and printed by the officials charged with this duty with respect to the election the election officials shall prepare and print, as soon as the deadline for the qualification of candidates has passed or forty-five (45) days * * *of before the election, whichever is later, official ballots to be mailed for each voting precinct to be known as absentee voter ballots, which ballots shall be prepared and printed in the same form and shall be of the same size and texture as the regular official ballot except that they shall be printed on tinted paper of a tint different from that of the regular official ballot.

     (2)  For all elections, the election officials shall prepare, as soon as the deadline for the qualification of candidates has passed or forty-five (45) days before the election, whichever is later, either official ballots for the direct recording electronic voting system or an official ballot that is fed through an optical mark reading equipment machine as provided in Sections 23-15-503 through 23-15-525 and Sections 23-15-531 through 23-15-531.12.

     SECTION 4.  Section 23-15-715, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     23-15-715.  Any elector described in Section 23-15-715 and desiring to vote by mail via an absentee ballot as provided in this subarticle may secure same if * * *: (a) not more than forty-five (45) days nor later than 12:00 noon on the Saturday immediately preceding elections held on Tuesday, the Thursday immediately preceding elections held on Saturday, or the second day immediately preceding the date of elections held on other days, * * *he shall appear in person before the registrar of the county in which he resides, or for municipal elections he shall appear in person before the city clerk of the municipality in which he resides and, when the elector so appears, he shall execute and file an application as provided in Section 23‑15‑627 and vote by absentee ballot, except that if the ballot has not been printed by forty‑five (45) days preceding the election, the elector may appear and file an application anytime before the election.  Then the absentee ballot shall be mailed by the circuit clerk to the elector as soon as the ballot has been printed the elector applies for an absentee ballot as provided for in this article.

      * * *(b)  Within forty‑five (45) days next prior to any election, any elector who cannot comply with paragraph (a) of this section by reason of temporarily residing outside the county, or any person who has a temporary or permanent physical disability, persons who are sixty‑five (65) years of age or older, or any person who is the parent, spouse or dependent of a temporarily or permanently physically disabled person who is hospitalized outside of his county of residence or more than fifty (50) miles away from his residence and such parent, spouse or dependent will be with such person on election day, may make application for an absentee ballot by mailing the appropriate application to the registrar.  Only persons temporarily residing out of the county of their residence, persons having a temporary or permanent physical disability, persons who are sixty‑five (65) years of age or older, or any person who is the parent, spouse or dependent of a temporarily or permanently physically disabled person who is hospitalized outside of his county of residence or more than fifty (50) miles away from his residence, and such parent, spouse or dependent will be with such person on election day, may obtain absentee ballots by mail under the provisions of this subsection and as provided by Section 23‑15‑713.  Applications of persons temporarily residing outside the county shall be sworn to and subscribed before an official who is authorized to administer oaths or other official authorized to witness absentee balloting as provided in this chapter, said application to be accompanied by such verifying affidavits as required by this chapter.  The All applications, other than those of persons having a temporary or permanent physical disability, shall * * *not be sworn to and subscribed before an official who is authorized to administer oaths or other official authorized to witness absentee balloting as provided in this article.  The application must be accompanied by a verifying affidavit as required by this article.  The applications of persons having a temporary or permanent physical disability are not required to be accompanied by an affidavit but shall be witnessed and signed by a person eighteen (18) years of age or older.  * * *The registrar shall send to such absent voter a proper absentee voter ballot within twenty‑four (24) hours, or as soon thereafter as the ballots are available, containing the names of all candidates who qualify or the proposition to be voted on in such election, and with such ballot there shall be sent an official envelope containing upon it in printed form the recitals and data hereinafter required.

     SECTION 5.  Section 23-15-719, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     23-15-719.  * * *(1)  Immediately upon completion of an application filed pursuant to the provisions of paragraph (a) of Section 23‑15‑715, Upon receipt of a properly completed application form by an elector qualified to vote absentee as provided in this article, the registrar shall * * *deliver the necessary ballots to the applicant.  The registrar shall identify the applicant by requiring him to present identification as required by Section 23‑15‑563, and shall then deliver the ballots to the applicant by mail or to the applicant in the registrar's office. send the absent voter an absentee ballot within one (1) business day, or as soon as the absentee ballot is prepared and available, containing the names of all the candidates and propositions, if any, to be voted on in the election.  The registrar shall include with the absentee ballot an official envelope that complies with the provisions of this article.  The registrar shall not personally hand deliver ballots to voters * * *, unless he delivers the ballots in the office of the registrar.  The elector shall fill in his ballot in secret.  After the applicant has properly marked the ballot and properly folded it, he shall deposit it in the envelope furnished him by the registrar.

     After * * *he the absentee voter has sealed the envelope, he or she shall subscribe and swear to an affidavit * * * in the following form, which shall be printed on the back of the envelope containing the applicant's ballot:

"STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

COUNTY OF ___________

I, __________, do solemnly swear that this envelope contains the ballot marked by me indicating my choice of the candidates or propositions to be submitted at the election to be held on the ___ day of __________, 2___, and I hereby authorize the registrar to place this envelope in the ballot box on my behalf, and I further authorize the election managers to open this envelope and place my ballot among the other ballots cast before such ballots are counted, and record my name on the poll list as if I were present in person and voted.

I further swear that I marked the enclosed ballot in secret.

        _______________________

        (Signature of voter)

SWORN TO AND SUBSCRIBED before me, __________, this the ___ day of __________, 2___.

        (Registrar) _______________________

         (Registrar)"

After the completion of the requirements of this section, the elector shall deliver the envelope containing the ballot to the registrar.

(2)  If the voter has received assistance in marking his ballot, the person providing the assistance shall complete the following form which shall be printed on the back of the envelope containing the applicant's ballot:

"CERTIFICATE OF PERSON PROVIDING VOTER ASSISTANCE

(To be completed only if the voter has received assistance in marking the enclosed ballot.)  I hereby certify that the above‑named voter declared to me that he or she is blind, temporarily or permanently physically disabled, or cannot read or write, and that the voter requested that I assist the voter in marking the enclosed absentee ballot.  I hereby certify that the ballot preferences on the enclosed ballot are those communicated by the voter to me, and that I have marked the enclosed ballot in accordance with the voter's instructions.

    ___________________________________________

    Signature of person providing assistance

    ___________________________________________

    Printed name of person providing assistance

    ___________________________________________

    Address of person providing assistance

    ___________________________________________

    Date and time assistance provided

    ___________________________________________

    Family relationship to voter (if any)"

(3)  The envelope used pursuant to this section shall not contain the form prescribed by Section 23‑15‑635 and shall have printed on the flap on the back of the envelope in bold print and in a distinguishing color, the following:  "YOUR VOTE WILL BE REJECTED AND NOT COUNTED IF THIS ENVELOPE IS NOT SIGNED ACROSS THE FLAP OF THIS ENVELOPE BY YOU AND AN ATTESTING WITNESS." and mail the ballot to the address provided on the application.  Ballots requested under Section 23-15-713 shall be mailed to the voter's address outside of the county in which he or she is registered.

     SECTION 6.  Section 23-15-625, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     23-15-625.  (1)  The registrar shall be responsible for providing applications for absentee voting as provided in this section.  At least sixty (60) days * * *prior to before any election in which absentee voting is provided for by law, the registrar shall provide a sufficient number of applications.  In the event a special election is called and set at a date which makes it impractical or impossible to prepare applications for absent elector's ballot sixty (60) days * * *prior to before the election, the registrar shall provide applications as soon as practicable after the election is called.  The registrar shall fill in the date of the particular election on the application for which the application will be used.

     (2)  The registrar shall be authorized to disburse applications for absentee ballots to any qualified elector within the county where he or she serves.  Any person who presents to the registrar an oral or written request for an absentee ballot application for a voter entitled to vote absentee by mail, other than the elector who seeks to vote by absentee ballot, shall, in the presence of the registrar, sign the application and print on the application his or her name and address and the name of the elector for whom the application is being requested in the place provided for on the application for that purpose.  However, if for any reason such person is unable to write the information required, then the registrar shall write the information on a printed form which has been prescribed by the Secretary of State.  The form shall provide a place for such person to place his or her mark after the form has been filled out by the registrar.

     (3)  It shall be unlawful for any person to solicit absentee ballot applications or absentee ballots for persons staying in any skilled nursing facility as defined in Section 41-7-173 * * *.  This prohibition shall not apply to unless the person soliciting the absentee ballot applications or absentee ballots is:

          (a)  A family member of the person staying in the skilled nursing facility; or

          (b)  A person designated by the person for whom the absentee ballot application or absentee ballot is sought, the registrar or the deputy registrar.

     As used in this subsection, "family member" means a spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling, adult child, grandchild or legal guardian.

     (4)  The registrar in the county wherein a voter is qualified to vote upon receiving by mail the envelope containing the absentee ballots shall keep an accurate list of all persons preparing such ballots * * *, which.  The list shall be kept in a conspicuous place accessible to the public near the entrance to * * *his the registrar's office.  The registrar shall also furnish to each precinct manager a list of the names of all persons in each respective precinct voting absentee * * *ballots to be posted in a conspicuous place at the polling place for public notice.  The application on file with the registrar and the envelopes containing the ballots that voters mailed to the registrar shall be kept by the registrar and deposited in the proper precinct ballot boxes before such boxes are delivered to the election commissioners or managers.  At the time such boxes are delivered to the election commissioners or managers, the registrar shall also turn over a list of all such persons who have voted and whose mailed ballots are in the box.

     (5)  The registrar shall also be authorized to mail one (1) application to any qualified elector of the county, who is eligible to vote by absentee ballot, for use in a particular election.

     (6)  The registrar shall process all applications for absentee ballots by using the Statewide Election Management System.  The registrar shall account for all absentee ballots delivered to and received by mail from qualified voters by processing such ballots using the Statewide Election Management System.

     SECTION 7.  Section 23-15-627, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     23-15-627.  The registrar shall be responsible for furnishing an absentee ballot application form to any elector authorized to receive an absentee ballot.  Except as otherwise provided in Section 23-15-625, absentee ballot applications shall be furnished to a person only upon the oral or written request of the elector who seeks to vote by absentee ballot; however, the parent, child, spouse, sibling, legal guardian, those empowered with a power of attorney for that elector's affairs or agent of the elector, who is designated in writing and witnessed by a resident of this state who shall write his or her physical address on such designation, may orally request an absentee ballot application on behalf of the elector.  The written designation shall be valid for one (1) year after the date of the designation.  An absentee ballot application must have the seal of the circuit or municipal clerk affixed to it and be initialed by the registrar or his or her deputy in order to be * * *utilized used to obtain an absentee ballot.  A reproduction of an absentee ballot application shall not be valid unless it is a reproduction provided by the office of the registrar of the jurisdiction in which the election is being held and which contains the seal and initials required by this section.  Such application shall be substantially in the following form:

"OFFICIAL APPLICATION FOR ABSENT ELECTOR'S BALLOT

     I, _____, duly qualified and registered in the ___ Precinct of the County of _____, and State of Mississippi, coming within the purview of the definition 'ABSENT ELECTOR' will be absent from the county of my residence on election day, or unable to vote in person because (check appropriate reason):

     ( )  (PRESIDENTIAL APPLICANT ONLY:)  I am currently a resident of Mississippi or have moved therefrom within thirty (30) days of the coming presidential election.

     ( )  I am an enlisted or commissioned member, male or female, of any component of the United States Armed Forces and am a citizen of Mississippi, or spouse or dependent of such member.

     ( )  I am a member of the Merchant Marine or the American Red Cross and am a citizen of Mississippi or spouse or dependent of such member.

     ( )  I am a disabled war veteran who is a patient in any hospital and am a citizen of Mississippi or spouse or dependent of such veteran.

     ( )  I am a civilian attached to and serving outside of the United States with any branch of the Armed Forces or with the Merchant Marine or American Red Cross, and am a citizen of Mississippi or spouse or dependent of such civilian.

     ( )  I am a citizen of Mississippi temporarily residing outside the territorial limits of the United States and the District of Columbia.

     ( )  I am a student, teacher or administrator at a college, university, junior or community college, high, junior high, elementary or grade school, whose studies or employment at such institution necessitates my absence from the county of my voting residence or spouse or dependent of such student, teacher or administrator who maintains a common domicile outside the county of my voting residence with such student, teacher or administrator.

     ( )  I will be outside the county on election day.

     ( )  I have a temporary or permanent physical disability.

     ( )  I am sixty-five (65) years of age or older.

     ( )  I am the parent, spouse or dependent of a person with a temporary or permanent physical disability who is hospitalized outside his or her county of residence or more than fifty (50) miles away from his or her residence, and I will be with such person on election day.

     ( )  I am a member of the congressional delegation, or spouse or dependent of a member of the congressional delegation.

     ( )  I am required to be at work on election day during the times which the polls will be open.

     I hereby make application for an official ballot, or ballots, to be voted by me at the election to be held in _____, on _____.

     Mail 'Absent Elector's Ballot' to me at the following address ____________  * * *(if eligible to vote by mail).

     I realize that I can be fined up to Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00) and sentenced up to five (5) years in the Penitentiary for making a false statement in this application and for selling my vote and violating the Mississippi Absentee Voter Law.  (This sentence is to be in bold print.)

     If you are temporarily or permanently disabled, you are not required to have this application notarized or signed by an official authorized to administer oaths for absentee balloting. You are required to sign this application in the proper place and have a person eighteen (18) years of age or older witness your signature and sign this application in the proper place.

     DO NOT SIGN WITHOUT READING.  (This sentence is to be in bold print.)

     IN WITNESS WHEREOF I have hereunto set my hand and seal this the ____ day of ______, 2___.

                          _________________________________

                          (Signature of absent elector)

     SWORN TO AND SUBSCRIBED before me this the ____ day of _____, 2___.

                          _________________________________

                        (Official authorized to administer oaths

                          for absentee balloting.)

     TO BE SIGNED BY WITNESS FOR VOTERS TEMPORARILY OR PERMANENTLY DISABLED:

     I HEREBY CERTIFY that this application for an absent elector's ballot was signed by the above-named disabled elector in my presence and that I am at least eighteen (18) years of age, this the _____ day of ____________________, 2___.

                          _________________________________

                          (Signature of witness)

     CERTIFICATE OF DELIVERY

     I hereby certify that _________________ (print name of voter) has requested that I, __________________ (print name of person delivering application), deliver to the voter this absentee ballot application.

                   __________________________________________

                   (Signature of person delivering application)

                   __________________________________________

                   (Address of person delivering application)"

     SECTION 8.  Section 23-15-629, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     23-15-629.  (1)  The application for an absentee ballot of a person who is permanently physically disabled shall be accompanied by a statement signed by such person's physician, or nurse practitioner, which statement must show that the person signing the statement is a licensed, practicing medical doctor or nurse practitioner and must indicate that the person applying for the absentee ballot is permanently physically disabled to such a degree that it is difficult for him or her to vote in person.

     (2)  An application accompanied by the statement provided for in subsection (1) of this section shall entitle such permanently physically disabled person to automatically receive an absentee ballot for all elections on a continuing basis without the necessity for reapplication.

     (3)  The registrar of each county shall keep an accurate list of the names and addresses of all persons whose applications for absentee ballot are accompanied by the statement set forth in subsection (1) of this section.  Sixty (60) days * * *prior to before each election, the registrar shall deliver such list to the election commissioners * * *of election who shall examine the list and delete from it the names of all persons listed who are no longer qualified electors of the county.  Upon completion of such examination, the election commissioners * * *of election shall return the list to the registrar by no later than forty-five (45) days * * *prior to before the election.

     (4)  The registrar shall * * *send mail a ballot to all persons who are determined by the election commissioners * * *of election to be qualified electors pursuant to subsection (3) of this section by no later than forty (40) days * * *prior to before the election.

     SECTION 9.  Section 23-15-631, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     23-15-631.  (1)  The registrar shall enclose with each ballot * * *provided mailed to an absent elector separate printed instructions furnished by the registrar containing the following:

 * * *  (a)  All absentee voters, excepting those with temporary or permanent physical disabilities or those who are sixty‑five (65) years of age or older, who mark their ballots in the county of the residence shall use the registrar of that county as the witness.  The absentee voter shall come to the office of the registrar and neither the registrar nor his or her deputy shall be required to go out of the registrar's office to serve as an attesting witness.

          ( * * *ba)  Upon receipt of the enclosed ballot, you will not mark the ballot except in view or sight of the attesting witness.  In the sight or view of the attesting witness, mark the ballot according to instructions.

          ( * * *cb)  After marking the ballot, fill out and sign the "ELECTOR'S CERTIFICATE" on the back of the envelope so that the signature is across the flap of the envelope to ensure the integrity of the ballot.  All absent electors shall have the attesting witness sign the "ATTESTING WITNESS CERTIFICATE" across the flap on the back of the envelope.  Place the necessary postage on the envelope and deposit it in the post office or some government receptacle provided for deposit of mail so that the absent elector's ballot, excepting presidential absentee ballots, will reach the registrar in which your precinct is located not later than 5:00 p.m. on the day preceding the date of the election.

     Any notary public, United States postmaster, assistant United States postmaster, United States postal supervisor, clerk in charge of a contract postal station, or other officer having authority to administer an oath or take an acknowledgment may be an attesting witness; provided, however, that in the case of an absent elector who is temporarily or permanently physically disabled, the attesting witness may be any person eighteen (18) years of age or older and such person is not required to have the authority to administer an oath.  If a postmaster, assistant postmaster, postal supervisor, or clerk in charge of a contract postal station acts as an attesting witness, his or her signature on the elector's certificate must be authenticated by the cancellation stamp of their respective post offices.  If an officer having authority to administer an oath or take an acknowledgement acts as attesting witness, his or her signature on the elector's certificate, together with his or her title and address, but no seal, shall be required.  Any affidavits made by an absent elector who is in the Armed Forces may be executed before a commissioned officer, warrant officer, or noncommissioned officer not lower in grade than sergeant rating or any person authorized to administer oaths.

          ( * * *dc)  When the application accompanies the ballot it shall not be returned in the same envelope as the ballot but shall be returned in a separate preaddressed envelope provided by the registrar.

          ( * * *ed)  A candidate for public office, or the spouse, parent or child of a candidate for public office, may not be an attesting witness for any absentee ballot upon which the candidate's name appears, unless the voter is related within the first degree to the candidate or the spouse, parent or child of the candidate.

          ( * * *fe)  Any voter casting an absentee ballot who declares that he or she requires assistance to vote by reason of blindness, temporary or permanent physical disability or inability to read or write, shall be entitled to receive assistance in the marking of his or her absentee ballot and in completing the affidavit on the absentee ballot envelope.  The voter may be given assistance by anyone of the voter's choice other than a candidate whose name appears on the absentee ballot being marked, the spouse, parent or child of a candidate whose name appears on the absentee ballot being marked or the voter's employer, an agent of that employer or a union representative; however, a candidate whose name is on the ballot or the spouse, parent or child of such candidate may provide assistance upon request to any voter who is related within the first degree.  In order to ensure the integrity of the ballot, any person who provides assistance to an absentee voter shall be required to sign and complete the "Certificate of Person Providing Voter Assistance" on the absentee ballot envelope.

     (2)  The foregoing instructions required to be provided by the registrar to the elector shall also constitute the substantive law pertaining to the handling of absentee ballots by the elector and registrar.

     (3)  The Secretary of State shall prepare instructions on how absent voters may comply with the identification requirements of Section 23-15-563.

     SECTION 10.  Section 23-15-635, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     23-15-635.  (1)  The form of the elector's certificate, attesting witness certification and certificate of person providing voter assistance on the back of the envelope used by absentee voters * * * who do not use the registrar of their county of residence as an attesting witness and who are not absent voters as defined in Section 23-15-673, shall be as follows:

"ELECTOR'S CERTIFICATE

STATE OF __________

COUNTY * * *OR PARISH OF __________

     I, __________, under penalty of perjury do solemnly swear that this envelope contains the ballot marked by me indicating my choice of the candidates or propositions to be submitted at the election to be held on the ___ day of __________, 2____, and I hereby authorize the registrar to place this envelope in the ballot box on my behalf, and I further authorize the election managers to open this envelope and place my ballot among the other ballots cast before such ballots are counted, and record my name on the poll list as if I were present in person and voted.

     I further swear that I marked the enclosed ballot in secret.

Penalties for vote fraud are up to five (5) years in prison and a fine of up to Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00).  (Miss. Code. Ann. Section 23-15-753.)  Penalties for voter intimidation are up to one (1) year in jail and a fine of up to One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00).  (Miss. Code. Ann. Section 97-13-37.)

                                      ____________________

                                      (Signature of voter)

CERTIFICATE OF ATTESTING WITNESS

     Under penalty of perjury I affirm that the above named voter personally appeared before me, on this the ___ day of __________, 2____, and is known by me to be the person named, and who, after being duly sworn or having affirmed, subscribed the foregoing oath or affirmation.  That the voter exhibited to me his or her blank ballot; that the ballot was not marked or voted before the voter exhibited the ballot to me; that the voter was not solicited or advised by me to vote for any candidate, question or issue, and that the voter, after marking his or her ballot, placed it in the envelope, closed and sealed the envelope in my presence, and signed and swore or affirmed the above certificate.

_________________________         _________________________

(Attesting witness)               (Address)

_________________________         _________________________

(Official title)                  (City and State)

CERTIFICATE OF PERSON PROVIDING VOTER ASSISTANCE

     (To be completed only if the voter has received assistance in marking the enclosed ballot.)  I, under penalty of perjury, hereby certify that the above-named voter declared to me that he or she is blind, temporarily or permanently physically disabled, or cannot read or write, and that the voter requested that I assist the voter in marking the enclosed absentee ballot.  I hereby certify that the ballot preferences on the enclosed ballot are those communicated by the voter to me, and that I have marked the enclosed ballot in accordance with the voter's instructions.

Penalties for vote fraud are up to five (5) years in prison and a fine of up to Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00).  (Miss. Code. Ann. Section 23-15-753.)  Penalties for voter intimidation are up to one (1) year in jail and a fine of up to One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00).  (Miss. Code. Ann. Section 97-13-37.)

                   ___________________________________________

                   Signature of person providing assistance

                   ___________________________________________

                   Printed name of person providing assistance

                   ___________________________________________

                   Address of person providing assistance

                   ___________________________________________

                   Date and time assistance provided

                   ___________________________________________

                   Family relationship to voter (if any)"

     (2)  The envelope used pursuant to this section shall not contain the form prescribed pursuant to Section 23-15-719 and shall have printed on the flap on the back of the envelope in bold print and in a distinguishing color, the following:  "YOUR VOTE WILL BE REJECTED AND NOT COUNTED IF THIS ENVELOPE IS NOT SIGNED ACROSS THE FLAP OF THIS ENVELOPE BY YOU AND AN ATTESTING WITNESS."

     SECTION 11.  Section 23-15-639, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     23-15-639.  (1)  In elections in which direct recording electronic voting systems are not * * *utilized used, the examination and counting of absentee ballots received by mail shall be conducted as follows:

          (a)  At the close of the regular balloting and at the close of the polls, the election managers of each voting precinct shall first take the envelopes containing the absentee ballots of such electors from the box, and the name, address and precinct inscribed on each envelope shall be announced by the election managers.

          (b)  The signature on the application shall then be compared with the signature on the back of the envelope.  If it corresponds and the affidavit, if one is required, is sufficient and the election managers find that the applicant is a registered and qualified voter or otherwise qualified to vote, * * *and that he has not appeared in person and voted at the election, the envelope shall then be opened and the ballot removed from the envelope, without its being unfolded, or permitted to be unfolded or examined.

          (c)  Having observed and found the ballot to be regular as far as can be observed from its official endorsement, the election managers shall deposit it in the ballot box with the other ballots before counting any ballots and enter the voter's name in the receipt book provided for that purpose and mark "VOTED" in the pollbook or poll list as if he or she had been present and voted in person.  If voting machines are used at the precinct, all absentee ballots shall be placed in the ballot box before any ballots are counted, and the election managers in each precinct shall immediately count such absentee ballots and add them to the votes cast in the voting machine or device.

     (2)  In elections in which direct recording electronic voting systems are * * *utilized used, the examination and counting of absentee ballots received by mail shall be conducted as follows:

          (a)  At the close of the regular balloting and at the close of the polls, the election managers of each voting precinct shall first take the envelopes containing the absentee ballots of such electors from the box, and the name, address and precinct inscribed on each envelope shall be announced by the election managers.

          (b)  The signature on the application shall then be compared with the signature on the back of the envelope.  If it corresponds and the affidavit, if one is required, is sufficient and the election managers find that the applicant is a registered and qualified voter or otherwise qualified to vote, * * *and that he has not appeared in person and voted at the election, the unopened envelope shall be marked "ACCEPTED" and the election managers shall enter the voter's name in the receipt book provided for that purpose and mark "VOTED" in the pollbook or poll list as if he or she had been present and voted in person.

          (c)  All absentee ballot envelopes shall then be placed in the secure ballot transfer case and delivered to the officials in charge of conducting the election at the central tabulation point of the county.  The official in charge of the election shall open the envelopes marked "ACCEPTED" and remove the ballot from the envelope.

          (d)  Having observed the ballot to be regular as far as can be observed from its official endorsement, the absentee ballot shall be processed through the central optical scanner.  The scanned totals shall then be combined with the direct recording electronic voting system totals for the unofficial vote count.

     When there is a conflict between an electronic voting system and a paper record, then there is a rebuttable presumption that the paper record is correct.

     (3)  The election managers shall also take such action as may be prescribed by the Secretary of State to ensure compliance with the identification requirements of Section 23-15-563.

     SECTION 12.  Section 23-15-641, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     23-15-641.  (1)  For all absentee votes received by mail, if an affidavit or the certificate of the officer before whom the affidavit is taken is required and such affidavit or certificate is found to be insufficient, or if it is found that the signatures do not correspond, or that the applicant is not a duly qualified elector in the precinct, or otherwise qualified to vote, or that the ballot envelope is open or has been opened and resealed, or the voter is not eligible to vote absentee * * * or that the voter is present and has voted within the precinct where he represents himself to be a qualified elector, or otherwise qualified to vote, on the date of the election at such precinct, the previously cast vote shall not be allowed.  Without opening the voter's envelope the election commissioners * * * of election, designated executive committee members or election managers, as appropriate, shall mark across its face "REJECTED", with the reason therefor, and the registrar shall promptly notify the voter of such rejection.

     (2)  For all absentee votes received by mail, if the ballot envelope contains more than one (1) ballot of any kind, the ballot shall not be counted but shall be marked "REJECTED", with the reason therefor, and the registrar shall promptly notify the voter of such rejection.  The voter's envelopes and affidavits, and the voter's envelope with its contents unopened, when such vote is rejected, shall be retained and preserved in the same manner as other ballots at the election.  Such votes may be challenged in the same manner and for the same reasons that any other vote cast in such election may be challenged.

 * * * (3)  If an affidavit is required and the officials find that the affidavit is insufficient, or if the officials find that the absentee voter is otherwise disqualified to vote, the envelope shall not be opened and a commissioner or executive committee member shall write across the face of the envelope "REJECTED" giving the reason therefor, and the registrar shall promptly notify the voter of such rejection.

     ( * * *43)  The ballots marked "REJECTED" shall be placed in a separate envelope in the secure ballot transfer case and delivered to the officials in charge of conducting the election at the central tabulation point of the county.

     SECTION 13.  Section 23-15-647, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     23-15-647.  The registrar shall keep safely and unopened all official absentee ballots which are received by mail * * *subsequent to after the applicable cutoff period establishing its validity.  Upon receipt of such ballot, the registrar shall write the day and hour of the receipt of the ballot on its envelope.  All such absentee ballots returned to the registrar after the cutoff time shall be safely kept unopened by the registrar for the period of time required for the preservation of ballots used in the election, and shall then, without being opened, be destroyed in like manner as the used ballots of the election.

     SECTION 14.  Section 23-15-713, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     23-15-713.  For the purpose of this subarticle, any duly qualified elector may vote by absentee ballot to be received by the elector and returned by mail to the registrar of the elector's county of residence as provided in this subarticle if * * *he be one who the elector falls within one (1) of the following categories:

          (a)  Any qualified elector who is a bona fide student, teacher or administrator at any college, university, junior college, high, junior high, or elementary grade school whose studies or employment at such institution necessitates his or her absence from the county of his or her voting residence on the date of any primary, general or special election, or the spouse and dependents of * * *said that student, teacher or administrator if such spouse or dependent(s) maintain a common domicile, outside of the county of his or her voting residence, with such student, teacher or administrator.

          (b)  Any qualified elector who is required to be away from his or her place of residence on any election day due to his or her employment as an employee of a member of the Mississippi congressional delegation and the spouse and dependents of such person if he or she shall be residing with such absentee voter away from the county of the spouse's voting residence.

          (c)  Any qualified elector who is away from his or her county of residence on election day for any reason.

          (d)  Any person who has a temporary or permanent physical disability and who, because of such disability, is unable to vote in person without substantial hardship to himself, herself  or others, or whose attendance at the voting place could reasonably cause danger to himself, herself or others.

          (e)  The parent, spouse or dependent of a person with a temporary or permanent physical disability who is hospitalized outside of his or her county of residence or more than fifty (50) miles distant from his or her residence, if the parent, spouse or dependent will be with such person on election day.

          (f)  Any person who is sixty-five (65) years of age or older.

          (g)  Any member of the Mississippi congressional delegation absent from Mississippi on election day, and the spouse and dependents of such member of the congressional delegation.

          (h)  Any qualified elector who will be unable to vote in person because he or she is required to be at work on election day during the times at which the polls will be open.

     SECTION 15.  Section 23-15-721, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     23-15-721.  (1)  Electors temporarily residing outside the county and obtaining an absentee ballot under the provisions of * * *paragraph (b) of Section 23-15-715 shall appear before any official authorized to administer oaths or other official authorized to witness absentee balloting as provided in this * * *chapter article.  The elector shall exhibit to such official his or her absentee ballot unmarked and thereupon proceed in secret to fill in * * *his the ballot.  After the elector has properly marked the ballot and properly folded it, he or she shall deposit it in the envelope furnished him or her.  After * * *he the elector has sealed the envelope he or she shall deliver it to the official before whom he or she is appearing and shall subscribe and swear to the elector's certificate provided for in Section 23-15-635, which affidavit shall be printed on the back of the envelope as provided for in Section 23-15-635 containing the elector's ballot.

     (2)  Electors who are temporarily or permanently physically disabled shall sign the elector's certificate and the certificate of attesting witness shall be signed by any person eighteen (18) years of age or older.

     (3)  After the completion of the requirements of this section, the elector shall mail the envelope containing the ballot to the registrar in the county wherein * * *said the elector is qualified to vote.  Except as otherwise provided by Section 23-15-699 and excluding presidential ballots as provided for in Sections 23-15-731 and 23-15-733, the ballots must be received by the registrar prior to 5:00 p.m. on the day preceding the election to be counted.

     SECTION 16.  Section 23-15-731, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     23-15-731.  Any presidential absentee ballots received in the mail by the registrar * * *subsequent to after the delivery of ballot boxes to the election managers and * * *prior to before the time for the closing of the polls on election day shall be retained by the registrar and shall be delivered, together with the applications of the qualified absentee elector to an election official designated to receive them.  The registrar shall receive a receipt from the designated election official for all such ballots and applications delivered. The designated election officials shall, upon the canvassing of the returns, count such ballots as if delivered to the proper precincts and such ballots shall be considered valid for all purposes as if they had been actually deposited in the proper precinct ballot boxes.  The appropriate election officials shall examine the affidavit of each envelope.  If the officials are satisfied that the affidavit is sufficient and that the absentee voter is otherwise qualified to vote, an official shall announce the name of the voter and shall give any person present an opportunity to challenge in like manner and for the same cause as the voter could have been challenged had he or she presented himself or herself personally in such precinct to vote.  The ineligibility of the voter to vote by absentee ballot shall be a ground for a challenge.  The officials shall consider any absentee voter challenged when a person has previously filed a written challenge of such voter's right to vote.  The election officials shall handle any such challenge in the same manner as other challenged ballots are handled, and if the challenge is not affirmed, the officials shall then open the envelope.  The officials shall then open the envelope in such manner as not to destroy the affidavit printed thereon and shall deposit the ballot marked "OFFICIAL ABSENTEE BALLOT," in a ballot box reserved for absentee ballots. The commissioners shall endorse on their pollbooks a proper notation to indicate that the absentee voter has voted in such election by absentee ballot.

     SECTION 17.  Section 23-15-735, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     23-15-735.  Absentee ballots shall not be delivered in person to an absentee voter or to any other person * * * except when an absentee voter shall have properly received an absentee ballot pursuant to Section 23‑15‑719.

     SECTION 18.  This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 2020.