MS Secretary of State nominees differ on expanding early voting

Local Elections

Republican Sen. Michael Watson of Pascagoula, left, listens as Democratic former Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, responds to a question at a forum sponsored by Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute of Government and the Capitol Press Corps, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019, in Jackson, Miss. Both men are candidates for secretary of state. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Two candidates for secretary of state said Monday that they have different ideas about whether Mississippi should change its laws to expand early voting.

Under current Mississippi law, absentee voting is limited to people who have a temporary or permanent disability, are at least 65 years old or will be out of town on Election Day.

The Republican nominee, state Sen. Michael Watson, said he sees no need to change the system.

“I think our system, as is, is working,” Watson said. “Obviously, lots of excuses that you can use — work, or out of town and a few other things that you can kind of talk about. Again, we give them 45 days to get in there. In my opinion, it’s easy enough as it is.”

The Democratic nominee, former Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, said he supports expansion of early voting to get more people involved in the election process.

“You have a fundamental right to vote, and why do I have to give an excuse to vote?” DuPree said. “That’s like, why do I have to give an excuse to breathe? I believe that we should have no-excuse early voting.”

Thirty-nine states allow people to vote early without having to provide an excuse such as being out of town on election day, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The two candidates spoke Monday in Jackson at a forum sponsored by Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute of Government and the Capitol Press Corps. Both said they support efforts to educate people about voting.

The election is Nov. 5.

DuPree and Watson are competing to succeed third-term Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican who faces Democratic state Rep. Jay Hughes in the open race for lieutenant governor.

The secretary of state serves with the governor and attorney general on the state election commission.

Candidates file campaign finance reports and businesses file documents of incorporation at the secretary of state’s office. The office also regulates charities and securities, and it oversees public land leases, which generate money for schools.

DuPree, 65, is a real estate broker and served 16 years as Hattiesburg mayor. He was previously a Forrest County supervisor and Hattiesburg school board member. He was also the Democratic nominee for governor in 2011, falling to Republican Phil Bryant in the general election.

Watson, 41, of Pascagoula, is an attorney has served three terms as a state senator in a district that’s entirely in coastal Jackson County.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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