Whether it’s the fear of going out in public during a pandemic or heightened interest in the presidential election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden — or a combination of both — a record number of Mississippi residents are likely to vote in advance of the Nov. 3 election.

The Mississippi Secretary of State’s office reported that as of last Sunday, more than 91,000 voters had requested an absentee ballot, and nearly 59,000 people had already returned the ballot or voted early in person.

The Mississippi Today website noted that, in the 2016 presidential election, 111,967 Mississippians voted absentee. This year, we still have nearly three weeks to go before the election, and over the coming days it’s probable that the rate of ballots coming in will only increase. That makes it easy to predict an absentee ballot record.

In turn, Mississippi Today noted that a higher-than-usual number of absentee ballots typically signals a large turnout on election day. There certainly is incentive for a high turnout this year. In addition to the presidential election, the entire state votes in the high-profile rematch between U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democratic challenger Mike Espy.

High turnout is not guaranteed, though. Trump and Hyde-Smith are comfortable favorites to get a majority of the votes in Republican-dominated Mississippi. So with the two main elections in all likelihood decided, it will be interesting to see if this year’s advance turnout is a one-time coronavirus event — or something that signals even a minor reversal of the decades-long downdraft of election participation.

A larger issue is that Mississippi has some of the country’s most restrictive advance voting laws. Perhaps this year’s experience will change that, but in any case, many voters, especially the elderly and the infirm, do have the right to vote ahead of time. They should use it.

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