Secretary of State Michael Watson
Measures not only tackle ballot harvesting but also increase transparency in campaign finance reporting and seek to better maintain voter rolls.
Among the legislation passed during the 2023 Legislative session were Senate Bill 2358, House Bill 1306, and House Bill 1310, all pertaining to securing elections in Mississippi.
While S.B. 2358 and H.B. 1306 have been signed by the Governor, H.B. 1310 is still awaiting approval.
Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson said clean and fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy.
“I’m proud of our work with the Legislature during the 2023 session to further preserve the integrity of Mississippi elections,” Secretary Watson said.
Secretary Watson explained that with the passage of S.B. 2358, ballot harvesting is prohibited with a few exceptions for family members, mail carriers, and the like while H.B. 1306 provides for penalties for fraudulently requesting absentee ballots. It also seeks to strengthen transparency in campaign finance reporting. Any candidate who does not file all campaign finance reports required in the last five years is prohibited from running for office.
“Awaiting the Governor’s signature is H.B. 1310, or our election integrity package,” Watson said. “Through this bill, we have been granted authority to conduct post-election audits, expanded procedures to ensure only U.S. citizens are voting in Mississippi elections, secured funding for enhanced cybersecurity, and codified methods to better maintain voter rolls.”
“With these additional safeguards, our goal is to restore confidence in the voting process and reaffirm to Mississippians their vote is the one they cast,” Watson concluded.
Senate Bill 2358
Signed by Governor Tate Reeves, the legislation bans ballot harvesting in the state of Mississippi.
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. Such collection is often performed by political operatives or organizations.
S.B. 2358 also states that a person shall not knowingly collect and transmit a ballot that was mailed to another person and outlines the individuals that are exempted:
- 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.
In signing the bill, Governor Reeves explained that ballot harvesting is where bad actors can take advantage of vulnerable voters and circumvent the election process.
“This process is an open invitation for fraud and abuse and can occur without the voter ever even knowing,” Reeves said. “Across the country, we’ve seen how bad actors have used ballot harvesting to take advantage of elderly and vulnerable voters in other states, all so they can try to circumvent our democratic process and cut you out of it. But here in Mississippi, we’re just not going to let that happen. Here, we will make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
Governor Reeves said “we reject attempts to cheat and we reject ballot harvesting.”
“We demand election integrity and we demand accountability. In fact, 87% of all Americans oppose ballot harvesting. I stand with the vast majority of Mississippians and with the vast majority of Americans,” Reeves said. “And as long as I’m governor, Mississippi will continue to take a strong stand in defense of our elections so that we can ensure complete confidence in the results.”
House Bill 1310
Passed by the Mississippi Legislature and awaiting the Governor’s signature, Secretary Watson said H.B. 1310 allows for post-election audits, adds new tools for counties to conduct voter roll maintenance, provides additional election support funding for counties, and expands procedures to ensure only U.S. citizens vote.
“Appreciate Rep. Brent Powell’s good work on H.B. 1310 and thankful for Lt. Gov. Hosemann, Sen. Jeff Tate, Rep. Price Wallace, and Speaker Gunn shepherding it through the legislature,” Watson said. “Clean and fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy. We’ve been working on pieces of this election integrity package from day one. Extremely proud to see through to the finish line.”
House Bill 1306
Signed by Governor Reeves on March 28, 2023, H.B. 1306 revises “certain provisions about names of candidates appearing on the ballot, judicial candidate’s annual report, and fraudulent absentee voter applications.”
“Through our work with HB 1306, candidates running for all offices will be prevented from appearing on the ballot if they have not filed their campaign finance reports in the last 5 years,” Secretary Watson said. “Transparency & accountability are fundamental components of the elections process.”
Watson said H.B. 1306 also assists District Attorneys with prosecutorial authority by providing penalties for fraudulently requesting or submitting an absentee ballot application.
“Great team effort with our legislators to continue making it easier to vote and harder to cheat!” Watson added.