Federal court strikes down ballot harvesting ban in Mississippi

Polls "are expected to extend outstretched hands of welcome and provide unfettered access to... citizens."


The US District Court in Mississippi blocked a voting law aiming to crack down on ballot harvesting that would have gone into effect on July first.   

The law, Senate Bill 2358, set limits on who can collect absentee ballots. Under the new law, only election officials, postal workers, family members, or caregivers can assist voters in mailing their ballots. With ballot harvesting, anyone, including political operatives, can go to voters' houses and collets ballots to be delivered to the election office. 

In the ruling striking down the law, Judge Henry Wingate said tthat the plaintiffs in the case, as a result of various disabilities, wanted to be able "seek assistance from 'any person they want,'" to vote, as stated in Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.   

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 says that those "who need assistance to vote by reason of blindness, disability, or inability to read or write" can be given help "by a person of the voter's choice." This excludes their employer and agents of their employer or union.   

The decision states that "polls are expected to extend outstretched hands of welcome and provide unfettered access to conscientious citizens" for voting rights. The judge adds that anytime a law "threatens this hallowed gem of citizenship, the citizenry fear a potential robbery of a precious right."  

Judge Wingate saw this as justification to strike down the law that would prevent ballot harvesting.

In some states, all elections are conducted by mail. These include California, Utah, and Vermont among others. In the case where some people have not sent in their ballots or would not have done so if not prompted, a political operative can go to the house of a party member and have them fill out voter slips. The operative then brings them to the election office and may have the opportunity to fraudulently tamper with them.

A proven instance of voter fraud took place in Florida, where several felons voted illegally.  

Instances involving fraudulent voting practices have occurred in other states, and the issue used to be a bipartisan concern. However, Republicans have focused on the issue more recently.   

Given that "any person" may be able to collect the ballot of those that are disabled in Mississippi, the possibility of ballot harvesting may be higher.   

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