By Phil McCausland


Mary Harwell, her husband, her elderly mother and her autistic son have remained in quarantine since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, watching from their windows as many of their fellow Mississippians live relatively normal lives despite the crisis.

While many people can return to some semblance of routine if they wear masks and follow the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Harwell, 45, and her family must remain vigilant inside their home in Jackson. Every member of her household, except her husband, has a pre-existing condition that puts them at additional risk of death if they are infected by the coronavirus.


A plaintiff in a case over absentee voting in Mississippi, Mary Harwell, who is diabetic, with her autistic son, Jack, who is immunocompromised, in their home in Jackson, Miss.Courtesy Mary Harwell

Harwell and her family have sacrificed much during the pandemic, but one thing they are unwilling to give up is their vote. Under current law, Mississippians have to show up in person to cast their ballots on Election Day, which led Harwell and five other plaintiffs, along with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mississippi Center for Justice, to sue the state to expand absentee voting in Mississippi.


Mississippi and four other states — Indiana, Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee — continue to limit vote-by-mail access and don't consider the pandemic to be a valid reason for absentee voting. Each state faces numerous legal challenges to the stymied access. With less than two months until Election Day, many voters remain confused about whether and how they can vote by mail. The uncertainty has the potential to affect voter access and, therefore, the outcomes of the elections themselves.


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