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Tuesday, July 2, 2024 | Back issues
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Mississippi approves ballot collection ban

The move was opposed by Democrats, who claim it will create hardships for bedridden individuals and members of the military.

(CN) — With narrow exceptions, the state of Mississippi has made it a crime to collect and submit ballots on behalf of others after Governor Tate Reeves put his signature on a controversial “ballot harvesting" bill Wednesday morning. 

In a statement, Reeves said the intent of Senate Bill 2358 was to “uphold the integrity of the election process” by prohibiting individuals or organizations from handling “massive amounts of absentee ballots” during an election, a process he claims is an “open invitation for fraud and abuse.” 

Reeves cited a 2021 poll conducted by Kellyanne Conway, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, suggesting 87% of Americans oppose ballot harvesting. He added the bill is designed to protect elderly voters from fraud and is the latest election bill his party has promoted aiming to “make it easy to vote, but hard to cheat.”

But the two-page bill does not define the term “harvesting” or specify how many ballots an authorized person may deliver at once. Rather, it simply makes it unlawful for any person to collect and transmit a single ballot for another unless they are an election official, postal employee or other official engaged in official duties; a family member, household member or caregiver of the person to whom the ballot was mailed; or a commercial carrier paid to deliver a single ballot for a fee. 

The bill passed the state Senate by a vote of 37-15 on Feb. 7 and passed the House 73-44 on n March 7, but not without some debate

Representative John Hines, a Democrat from Greenville, said the bill might be well-intentioned but it will have “bad consequences.”

“It’s trying to fix an issue where there is no problem,” he said on the House floor. “If you’re really trying to do the right thing and make sure everybody has access and opportunity to engage in the process, then this is a bad piece of legislation.” 

Democratic Representative Edward Blackmon Jr., of Canton, argued the bill does not take into consideration bedridden individuals or military members serving stateside or overseas.

“This is going to severely restrict the options you have to cast your ballot,” Blackmon said. “People will be extremely concerned about whether they are jeopardizing themselves criminally by providing the simple assistance of taking your ballot and putting it in the mailbox or delivering it to the clerk's office.”

Blackmon suggested the term “harvesting” was included “to throw you off, because you have a vision of individuals going around collecting large hauls of ballots and depositing them. Instead, this has to do with the individual who may want to cast their vote, but cannot for any number of reasons.” 

When the bill was introduced in the House on Feb. 22, Republican Representative Jansen Owen of Poplarville defended it and was prepared to provide examples of harvesting that had occurred in the past. But on March 7, Owen was one of three Republicans who ultimately voted against it, saying he couldn’t support the bill without a so-called "reverse repealer" that ensures it cannot become law without further revisions.

Just before it was passed, Prince Wallace of Mendenhall, Republican chairman of the Apportionment and Elections Committee, took the podium to defend the bill. 

“I can assure you that never have I ever wanted to oppress anyone’s vote,” he said. “I believe if you come to that polling precinct or you come and ask for that ballot … I promise you with the last breath in my body I will make sure that vote will count.” 

Violations of the law carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a fine of up to $3,000.

Elsewhere, a ballot harvesting bill approved in Kansas this year is being reviewed by the courts, while at least two similar so-called “election integrity” bills have also been introduced in the Alabama Legislature, which gaveled in for its regular session Tuesday. 

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Categories / Civil Rights, Government, Law, Politics, Regional

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