Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, speaks about his amendment to proposed ballot initiative legislation, during floor debate, Wednesday, March 8, 2023, at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis - Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Democratic members, ACLU view the bill as an attack on voting rights while Secretary of State Watson maintains the legislation supports clean and fair elections.
On Monday, the conference first report for H.B. 1310 was taken up by the Mississippi House and ultimately recommitted. The legislation revises provisions related to integrity of elections and cleaning voter rolls.
State Representative Brent Powell (R) said at time that the big change is on the trigger for non-voting.
“We changed it to where we make sure you have at least four years,” Powell said. “What we’re doing is: the presidential primary to the next presidential election which gives you basically about four and a half years to vote. If you don’t vote in that period of time, that’s when you’ll get that card, and if you don’t return that card within four years you’ll be removed. You can still vote affidavit and you can actually reregister at that point if you would like.”
Additionally, the conference report authorizes the Secretary of State to audit election procedures of the 2023, 2024, 2026 and 2027 general elections in all Mississippi counties.
State Representative Robert Johnson, the House Democratic Minority Leader, made the motion to recommit the conference report for H.B. 1310 for further discussion.
“There’s a section in here that says a registered voter who has failed to vote at least once in any election, or update his registration during a period that begins in a presidential preference, you put all of these requirements on a person that’s registered to vote,” Johnson said.
“In this day, two days after a whole town got wiped out, we’re getting ready to make a whole town, a whole county, inactive cause they’re not going to vote. For what?” Johnson said.
Rep. Johnson said they should stop penalizing the people who sent them up here. He said this section needs to be taken out because it’s a tool that is not needed.
State Representative John Hines (D) also spoke on the bill. He said their lives should be about impacting the lives of those who have been devastated, who have lost in recent days.
“This insensitivity around the lives of people,” Hines said. “This storm went from Sharkey County all the way up to Amory.”
Hines said there isn’t a place to vote in Sharkey County, let alone a place to even lay your head.
“It takes about 120 days to clean off all that rubble,” Hines said. “Where are they going to vote at? Let alone who are they going to vote for?”
Rep. Hines asked lawmakers to recommit the bill. He said people may not want to vote for elected officials because that’s your right to engage and disengage in the process as they choose.
By Monday afternoon, the conference report for H.B. 1310 was re-filed and on Tuesday, it was adopted by both the House and the Senate. While the Senate passed the conference report moments after its introduction, the House heavily discussed the legislation.
State Representative Ed Blackmon (D) said voting is not a privilege in this country, it is a right. He asked why in Mississippi do they always have such a hard time recognizing that the right to vote should not be so unattainable.
“There are people who laid down their lives for [the right to vote],” Blackmon said. “We know what’s going to happen with this bill – there’ll be litigation.”
Blackmon said there is no reason for the bill.
“This bill has no business, first of all, being in existence. Let alone before the body,” Blackmon said.
State Representative De’Keither Stamps (D) said there’s a huge gap of time where he didn’t vote. Stamps said he joined the military when he was 18 and for 12 years he was “bouncing around the world.”
When he came back to Mississippi, Rep. Stamps said he decided to run for city council. He said if this bill was in place prior to that, he wouldn’t have been able to run for office.
State Rep Representative Zakiya Summers (D) made a motion to recommit the legislation again but the motion failed. The conference report was ultimately adopted by a vote of 71-42.
The ACLU of Mississippi released a statement in response to the original conference report, saying it directly attacked voting rights in Mississippi. They argued that the harms of House Bill 1310 include third-party election auditing and multiple forms of voter purging.
“The bill would disenfranchise voters by forcing election commissioners to remove voters from the voter rolls for simply choosing not to vote in an election. HB 1310 removes registered Mississippi voters from the voting rolls if they fail to vote in two federal elections within two years,” the statement from the ACLU of Mississippi said. “These voters will be sent a confirmation notice and placed on inactive status, meaning they will be required to cast an affidavit ballot rather than a regular ballot on election day. If they ultimately fail to respond to the confirmation notice, they will be purged from the voting rolls.”
“Additionally, HB 1310 would use outdated databases in an attempt to identify non-citizens as registered voters,” the ACLU added. “This bill also proposes using public dollars to fund election audits and encourages third-party audits, which are not very secure.”
The ACLU argued that the right to vote should not be a “use it or lose it” policy.
“Attempts to purge non-citizens from Mississippi’s voter rolls are solutions searching for a problem. And audits meant to encourage election transparency must be fully secure,” ACLU of Mississippi continued.
Secretary of State Michael Watson (R) said the ACLU of Mississippi is having a “hard time” telling the truth about H.B. 1310.
“It’s ok to disagree on policy, but it’s not ok to misrepresent the facts,” Secretary Watson said. “The bill strengthens the integrity of our election process. Sadly, it appears the ACLU doesn’t want clean and fair elections.”
Secretary Watson said as they work to preserve the integrity of Mississippi elections, we must continue to implement safeguards to ensure free and fair elections.
“Through HB 1310, Mississippians will be reassured that only United States citizens are voting in our elections and state election laws are being followed with the implementation of post-election audit,” Watson said. “Additionally, it codifies our voter roll maintenance practices which focus on cleaning up voter rolls and sends more money to the counties to make sure they are properly equipped. Maintaining election security is not a Republican or Democrat issue, it is an American issue!”
The legislation now heads to the Governor’s desk for his signature. It’s expected that Governor Tate Reeves will sign the bill into law.