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Lawsuit claims Mississippi’s ballot...

Lawsuit claims Mississippi’s ballot harvesting ban infringes on disabled voters’ rights

By: Anne Summerhays - June 15, 2023

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)

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves celebrated the new law when he signed it, saying ballot harvesting is an open invitation for fraud and can occur without the voter ever knowing.

On May 31st, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Mississippi Center for Justice, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Mississippi, and Disability Rights Mississippi (DRMS) filed a federal lawsuit challenging Senate Bill 2358, a new law that bans ballot harvesting in the state of Mississippi. The legislation is set to take effect on July 1, 2023.

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, a drop box, 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.

The new law passed the Mississippi House on a 73-44 vote and was approved in the state Senate by a vote of 33-13.

READ MORE: Governor signs bill banning ballot harvesting in Mississippi

The case challenging S.B. 2358 was filed on behalf of DRMS, the League of Women Voters of Mississippi and three individual Mississippi voters. The lawsuit claims that the legislation violates the right of Mississippians with disabilities to receive assistance in voting from the person of their choice, as recognized in Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act.

Ahmed Soussi, Staff Attorney for Voting Rights with the SPLC, said anti-voter politicians are trying to deny a fair voice in government to Mississippians with disabilities while criminalizing their friends and neighbors who want to help them deliver absentee ballots.

“This bill would diminish American democracy by punishing volunteers who facilitate voting for historically discriminated against communities,” Soussi said.

Joshua Tom, Legal Director at the ACLU of Mississippi, said the bill is the latest in a long history of attacks on the right to vote in Mississippi while Rob McDuff, Director of the George Riley Impact Litigation Initiative at the Mississippi Center for Justice, said Mississippians deserve to vote with confidence.

“Many people in difficult situations rely on friends and neighbors to help deliver absentee ballots. This legislation would prevent that,” McDuff added. “We stand with the voters of Mississippi and with those who strive to make voting more accessible and ensure the power remains with the people.”

While the legislation made it through the legislative process, it did spark concern among some lawmakers, mainly within the Democratic Caucus. 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.”

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 a bad piece of legislation,” Rep. Hines said. “This is a situation where we’re going to have some bad consequences.”

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, who signed the bill into law on March 22nd, celebrated the legislation. Reeves said 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,” Governor 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 added that Mississippi rejects attempts to cheat and rejects ballot harvesting.

“We demand election integrity, and we demand accountability,” Governor Reeves continued. “In fact, 87% of all Americans oppose ballot harvesting. I stand with the vast majority of Mississippians and with the vast majority of Americans.”

About the Author(s)
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Anne Summerhays

Anne Summerhays is a recent graduate of Millsaps College where she majored in Political Science, with minors in Sociology and American Studies. In 2021, she joined Y’all Politics as a Capitol Correspondent. Prior to making that move, she interned for a congressional office in Washington, D.C. and a multi-state government relations and public affairs firm in Jackson, Mississippi. While at Millsaps, Summerhays received a Legislative Fellowship with the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi where she worked with an active member of the Mississippi Legislature for the length of session. She has quickly established trust in the Capitol as a fair, honest, and hardworking young reporter. Her background in political science helps her cut through the noise to find and explain the truth. Email Anne: