Dem Elections Chief Candidate: ‘Ballot Harvesting’ Ban Makes Voting Harder For Disabled Seniors, Veterans

Shuwaski Young announced his campaign
Mississippi Secretary of State Democratic Nominee Shuwaski Young, pictured here, shared his disapproval of Senate Bill 2358, which bans Mississippians from collecting and transmitting mailed absentee ballots on another voter’s behalf, on June 5, 2023. File photo by Kayode Crown

Democratic Mississippi Secretary of State Nominee Shuwaski Young says he is “appalled” by incumbent Republican Michael Watson’s support of Senate Bill 2358, a “ballot harvesting” ban set to take effect on July 1, 2023.

“As a Veteran, I am appalled by Michael Watson’s efforts to make it harder for Veterans and Seniors to vote,” Young said in a June 5 press release. “All Mississippians deserve ballot access, and our residents, especially Seniors, Veterans, and citizens living with disabilities should never be victims to the undemocratic and uncompassionate voter suppression tactics of elected officials, like Michael Watson, that make it difficult for voters to vote.”

Senate Bill 2358, which Gov. Tate Reeves signed into law in March, prohibits Mississippians from collecting and transmitting mailed absentee ballots that do not belong to them. It specifies five exceptions of people who are permitted to handle another person’s ballot: election officials, U.S. Postal Service workers, individuals authorized by federal law to disperse ballots, family, household members and caregivers of the person to whom the ballot was mailed and common carriers who are paid to transport items from one location to another.

On May 31, Disability Rights Mississippi, the Mississippi Center for Justice, the national and state branches of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit against S.B. 2358 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

First page of a complaint filing
“The ability to vote absentee by mail is critical to Mississippi voters experiencing a condition that prevents them from voting in person. Under Mississippi law, any voter who ‘is unable to vote in person without substantial hardship’ due to a disability may vote by mail,” says a May 31, 2023, lawsuit challenging Mississippi’s “ballot harvesting” ban.

The complaint says the bill “restricts voters with disabilities from having a person of their choice assist them in submitting their completed mail-in absentee ballots.”

Additionally, the plaintiffs argue that the “ballot-harvesting” ban conflicts with the Voting Rights Act’s 1982 amendment that allows voters with disabilities to “be given assistance by a person of the voter’s choice, other than the voter’s employer or agent of that employer or officer or agent of the voter’s union.”

Watson is one of the defendants in the lawsuit, along with Chickasaw County Attorney Elizabeth Ausbern, Hinds County Attorney Gerald A. Mumford and Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch.

In his press release, Young claimed that “Secretary of State Michael Watson and his friends in the State Legislature have perfected limiting folks’ access to the ballot.”

“It’s wrong to make it harder to vote … People often need voting assistance, and our residents should never be denied the much-needed assistance they require at the ballot box,” said Young, a Philadelphia, Miss., native.

Michael Watson at a election rally
Incumbent Secretary of State Michael Watson, pictured, stated his approval of the “ballot-harvesting” ban in a March 22, 2023, tweet. Photo by Ashton Pittman.

The Mississippi Free Press reached out to Watson’s office for an interview, but a spokesperson said the Secretary of State could not speak on impending litigation.

Watson previously mentioned his support of S.B. 2458 on Twitter after Gov. Reeves signed the bill on March 22.

“Happy to learn today of Gov. Reeves’ support of our efforts to ban ballot harvesting,” the incumbent Republican wrote in a tweet.

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