The emergence of interest groups and social media for campaigning and fundraising has raised the prospect of successful ballot initiatives. Credit: Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/ Report for America

A federal lawsuit has been filed saying a new Mississippi law will make it more difficult for the elderly and disabled to vote.

Republican sponsors of Senate Bill 2358 say it is designed to prohibit what they refer to as “ballot harvesting.” The bill prohibits anyone other than election officials, postal workers, commercial carriers, household members or caregivers from providing voter assistance and submitting an absentee ballot. Under Mississippi law, only certain people, including the elderly and disabled, can vote early or via mail. But to vote by mail, a person has to go through multiple steps, including requesting a ballot application before receiving the actual ballot.

“Voters — especially those with disabilities — depend on the assistance of community groups, friends, and neighbors,” Peg Ciraldo, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Mississippi, said in a statement. “Now these neighborly efforts are being criminalized, and Mississippi voters in need of assistance are being silenced. Democracy in Mississippi cannot be whole when these voters are disenfranchised.” 

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in the Southern District of behalf of a group of Mississippians and the League of Women Voters of Mississippi by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Mississippi Center for Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU-Mississippi and Disability Rights Mississippi.

“Mississippi voters with disabilities will be barred from receiving assistance from the people they trust – and some are likely to be disenfranchised,” the lawsuit reads.

READ MORE: Lawmakers pass ‘voter purge’ bill that could keep some Mississippians from voting

The lawsuit is timely, those filing it say, because state and local elections are slated later this year, with party primary election set for August.

A violation of the new law is punishable by up to one year imprisonment and a fine of $3,000. The lawsuit says the new state law violates federal elections law.

When he signed the bill into law, Reeves said, “Mississippi is taking another step toward upholding the absolute integrity of our election process by banning ballot harvesting across the state. This process is an open invitation for fraud and abuse and can occur without the voter ever even knowing.”

The Republican leadership of the Legislature passed multiple bills during the 2023 session they said were designed to maintain “the integrity” of the election process. Others argued the bills would make it more difficult for Mississippians to vote. One required local election officials to purge voter rolls if people do not vote during a a specified time.

Under the bill, people who do not vote in one of two presidential elections in a four-year period or in any other election between those national elections would be mailed a card asking them to confirm they still live at the same address. If they do not respond to that card, they would be required to vote affidavit in the next election.

People who vote by affidavit — with their vote accepted as still residing in the voting district — would be considered a voter in good standing. But if they do not return the card or take no voter-related action over a period of two federal elections they would be removed from the registered voter list.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.