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Mississippi Bans Handling Other Voters’ Mail Absentee Ballots

Gov. Tate Reeves speaking into the camera. A long brown table is behind him and that is flanked by the US and Mississippi State flags
Gov. Tate Reeves signed Senate Bill 2358 into law on March 22, 2023, banning so-called ‘ballot harvesting,’ meaning the collecting or transmitting of mailed absentee ballots on behalf of another voter with limited exceptions, in the State starting on July 1, 2023. Photo courtesy State of Mississippi

Mississippians who collect or transmit a mailed absentee ballot on behalf of someone else could be charged with a misdemeanor offense and face up to one year in a county jail or a fine of up to $3,000 after Gov. Tate Reeves signed Senate Bill 2358 into law on Wednesday. It will take effect on July 1.

The new law will allow exceptions for a family member, household member, caregiver, an election official or an employee of the U.S. Postal Service when it becomes effective on July 1.

Reeves said the bill continues from where the Legislature left off with last year’s voting restrictions.

“This bill builds on last year’s election integrity wins that banned illegal aliens and non-citizens from voting and blocked Zuckerburks from funding elections,” he said. Undocumented immigrants were already prohibited from voting before last year’s legislation, but the 2022 law implemented required citizenship checks for people registering to vote.

The latter 2022 law the governor mentioned prohibits election offices from accepting funds from outside individuals and organizations, such as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg, for the purpose of “voter education, voter outreach or voter registration programs.”

Mississippi Secretary of States Michael Watson welcomed the newest election law in a tweet on Wednesday. His office oversees elections in the state.

“Happy to learn today of Gov. Reeves’ support of our efforts to ban ballot harvesting,” Watson wrote.

Mail-In Voting Already Limited in Mississippi

Voting absentee by mail is restricted in Mississippi to those who are 65 years or older, people who are temporarily residing outside of their county of residence and people with temporary or permanent physical disability.

It also includes, “The parent, spouse or dependent of a person with a temporary or permanent physical disability who is hospitalized outside of his or her county of residence or more than fifty (50) miles distant from his or her residence, if the parent, spouse or dependent will be with such person on election day.”

Michael Watson official headshot
Mississippi Secretary of States Michael Watson said he was “happy” Gov. Tate Reeves signed S.B. 2358 into law. Courtesy Secretary of State

A notary public must sign the application for the ballot and the submission of the ballot, with the exception of people who are temporarily or permanently physically disabled.

“Temporary or permanently physically disabled voters may have the application witnessed by a person who is at least 18 years of age,” the Secretary of States website says.

The office did not immediately respond to the Mississippi Free Press with information about the number of people who voted by mail in the 2020 presidential election and the 2022 midterm elections.

Reeves said he signed the bill to uphold “the absolute integrity of our election process.”

“Ballot harvesting is when a political operative collects and handles massive amounts of absentee ballots,” he said. “This process is an open invitation for fraud and abuse and can occur without the voter ever even knowing.”

Reeves claimed “national Democrats are pushing for a federal takeover of elections and are advocating to push ballot harvesting on states all across the U.S.”

“This is nothing more than a blatant political power grab, and we must continue standing up to them,” he added.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Biden-supported For the People Act of 2021, but it failed in the Senate. It would have impacted federal elections in various ways, including by implementing automatic voter registration for people upon turning 18; allowing broad voting-by-mail and early voting options nationwide; requiring states to establish independent congressional redistricting commissions; requiring the president and vice presidential candidates to disclose ten years of tax returns; implementing election cybersecurity initiatives; allowing voters to register to vote on the same day as an election and online voter registration.

In 2021, Secretary Watson expressed regret over his word choice after warning that the Biden administration’s voting proposals could open the ballot box to previously unregistered “woke college and university students now who will automatically be registered to vote whether they wanted to or not.”

Watson Wants Power to Audit Elections

Secretary Watson is also pushing for House Bill 1310, which would make it easier for election officials to purge names from the voter rolls. After the Mississippi House did not agree to changes the Senate made to the bill, it is headed to conference where members of the two chambers will hash out their differences. The House conferees are Price Wallace, R-Mendenhall, Dan Eubanks, R-Walls, Brent Powell R-Brandon; the senators are David Parker, R-Olive Branch and Jeff Tate, R-Meridian, Joey FIllingane, R-Sumrall.

According to the latest version of the bill, Mississippians who fail to vote in at least one local, state or federal election over a two-year period that includes two federal elections could be listed as inactive and only able to vote by affidavit ballot.

After failing to vote at any time across or between two federal elections (meaning a presidential election and a congressional midterm), local election officials would send voters a notice. Four years after receiving a notice, authorities would purge an individual’s name from the voter rolls. To prevent this purge, the individual would have to respond to the notice within four years; vote in any election during those years (including county, municipal, state, or federal elections); be an active or reserve military personnel; or respond to a jury-duty call.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi opposes the bill.

“As one of the few states with neither online voter registration nor no-excuse early voting, Mississippi consistently ranks amongst the most difficult states to vote in the nation,” the organization said in a tweet thread on March 10. “This harmful bill will continue that legacy by further disenfranchising Mississippi voters.”

Watson continues to advocate for an older version of the bill, which would grant his office the authority to conduct post-election audits, while the Senate version limits the audit to the 2023 and 2024 federal elections and said on Tuesday that post-election audits occur across the country. “Michigan, California, New York, Texas, Florida, & Tennessee are just a few of the 40+ states that have some form of post-election audit,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “The more we look under the hood, the more confidence Mississippians will have that our election laws are being followed. We must bring this safeguard to our state through HB 1310.”

The older version of the bill would have allowed the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office “to audit election procedures in the counties of this state.”

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