In this June 9, 2020, file photo, a sign indicates where mail ballots may dropped off as people wait in line at one of a few in person voting places during a nearly all-mail primary election in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
Some lawmakers, particularly Democrats, view the legislation to ban the practice as restricting access to voting.
On Tuesday, the Mississippi House passed Senate Bill 2358, a bill that would ban ballot harvesting.
Ballot harvesting is the practice of a third-party picking up or collecting a voter’s absentee ballot and delivering it to a polling place or a clerk’s office. This is often performed by political operatives or organizations and has been more widely seen in other states. Opponents say this practice can lend itself to election fraud and advocate for laws surrounding such activities to be tightened.
SB 2358 states that a person shall not knowingly collect and transmit a ballot that was mailed to another person, except for the following parameters:
- An election official while engaged in official duties as authorized by law.
- An employee of the United States Postal Service while engaged in official duties as authorized by law.
- Any other individual who is allowed by federal law to collect and transmit United States mail while engaged in official duties as authorized by law.
- A family member, household member, or caregiver of the person to whom the ballot was mailed.
- A common carrier that transports goods from one place to another for a fee. No parcel shall contain more than a single ballot.
However, not everyone is in favor of taking such action against ballot harvesting. Some lawmakers, particularly Democrats, view the legislation to ban the practice as restricting access to voting.
State Representative Willie Bailey (D) described the legislation as a “bad bill.”
“This bill will make all of you criminals if you go and assist anybody with getting that absentee ballot,” Rep. Bailey said. “It’s just wrong to come here and make everybody a criminal when you’re trying to help people to engage in a democratic process, in a democratic right and you make it a crime.”
Bailey urged the House to vote against it.
“Let’s bury this bill because it’s no good, it’s making innocent people criminals, and I don’t think we intend to do that,” Bailey continued. “I ask you to vote against this bill, let’s kill it.”
State Representative Ed Blackmon (D) said the bill doesn’t take into consideration the men and women in the military, the ones that are here serving stateside, and the ones serving in foreign territories. Blackmon also said it impacts those individuals who find themselves unable to leave their beds such as hospitals or nursing homes.
“This is going to severely restrict the options that you have to cast your ballot,” Blackmon said. “The question is, why are we going about it this way? Ballot harvesting is already against the law in Mississippi and has been so for a number of years.”
Rep. Blackmon said the House has not thought the bill through, saying it should have been left on the table to die at the end of session.
State Representative John Hines (D) agreed with his Democrat colleagues, saying that sometimes, people have the best intentions. However, he said, their actions have bad consequences.
“This is a bad piece of legislation,” Rep. Hines said. “This is a situation where we’re going to have some bad consequences.”
Rep. Jeffery Harness (D) said he was a history teacher and the subject he taught was Mississippi history.
“All over the world, we’ve had legislation and we’ve had governments trying to exert their power and influence over other groups of people and throughout human history, it has never worked,” Harness said. “So what makes you think it’s going to work now?”
Harness said that there will be grave consequences to every bill they pass like this.
“I ask you to vote no on this bill, because Mississippians are better than this,” Harness said.
The issue of the legislation not including a reverse repealer caused State Representative Jansen Owen (R) heartburn. He said a few weeks ago, he brought the bill up on the House floor and promised a reverse repealer would be added. That did not happen.
“Today the bill was brought up and it’s being put to vote without the reverse repealer in it and it was not right for me to stand here, after assuring each and every one of you, that I would put a reverse repealer in that bill and it not happen,” Owen told the House.
While he appreciates the premise of the bill and thinks there needs to be protections for this type of situation, Rep. Owen said he would vote no for the legislation until a reverse repealer is added to it.
State Representative Price Wallace (R), Chairman of the House Apportionment and Elections Committee, said he has never wanted to oppress anyone’s vote.
“I believe if you come to that polling precinct or if you come and ask for that ballot that you want to cast your ballot and make your mark and vote for whoever you feel like is the right person, I promise you that I will make sure with the last breath in my body, that your vote’s going to count,” Wallace said. “I ask you to vote yes on this bill.”
The bill ultimately passed in the House and a motion to reconsider was entered.
You can view Tuesday’s full floor action below.