Federal judge blocks new voting law pitched as a way to combat ‘ballot harvesting’

Published: Jul. 31, 2023 at 7:46 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) -Absentee voting is happening in Mississippi right now, and there won’t be any new restrictions on ballot access.

If you have a disability or someone in your family does, you know the potential struggles of getting to a polling place. Absentee voting often makes more sense, but it’s still a process. That process won’t change now that a federal judge has blocked Senate Bill 2358.

”This ruling matters so much for people with disabilities,” said Jane Walton, Disability Rights Mississippi Communications Director.

Disability Rights Mississippi puts out educational materials about the absentee process. But they know there are many Mississippians who need help getting that ballot and getting it returned by the deadline. Their steps won’t have to change with Senate Bill 2358 now blocked.

“At the core of this, it’s whether or not a person with a disability could have a support person of their choosing for absentee voting,” noted Walton. “This is really about allowing a person with his disability to vote in a way that is accessible for them. And so that they can let their voice be heard through the electoral process for people.”

That can range from someone with a mobility issue to a visual impairment or trouble reading or writing. It’s about the logistics, not dictating who those people should cast votes for once they receive the ballot.

“I think, shattering that notion that people with disabilities don’t have the autonomy or independence to cast their vote for themselves, they just might need a little extra assistance,” added Walton.

Supporters of the law say it was designed to prevent political operatives from collecting and handling absentee ballots. However, the ACLU points this out.

“Defendants in our case didn’t actually point to any real evidence of an actual ballot harvesting problem in Mississippi,” explained Casey Smith, ACLU Voting Rights Project, Equal Justice Works Fellow. “And the court noted that. Statistically, voter fraud is extremely rare. The state hasn’t offered evidence of an actual ballot harvesting issue in this lawsuit or anywhere else.”

Had the law stayed in effect, there would have been criminal penalties for violating the law, and the judge notes that it’s unclear on exactly who was allowed to assist.

This order will apply to the primary elections next week and the general election in November. And the judge has ordered the Secretary of State’s office to help the court in getting information out to clarify the new law is not in effect.

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