31 May MS Groups Settle Lawsuit After Lawmakers Repeal Illegal Barriers for Naturalized Citizens to Vote
For Immediate Release
May 31, 2022
Voting and Immigrants’ Rights Groups Settle Lawsuit After Mississippi Legislature Repeals Unconstitutional Provision and Provides Additional Voter Registration Safeguard for Naturalized Citizens
Groups to Monitor Implementation of New Safeguard
(Washington, D.C.) – As a result of legislation passed in the recent legislative session, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Mississippi Center for Justice (MCJ) recently asked a federal court to dismiss the case they filed on behalf of the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (“MIRA”) and League of Women Voters of Mississippi (“LWVM”) that challenged a 1924 Mississippi voter registration law and a more recent database matching program used for voter registration applications.
The new legislation, HB 1510, creates a safeguard that helps protect naturalized citizens from being erroneously flagged as non-citizens when registering to vote. It also repeals the unconstitutional 1924 provision that imposed a documentary proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirement on naturalized citizens but not native-born citizens. The Plaintiffs are asking to dismiss the lawsuit because HB 1510 cures the problems that led to its filing. The Secretary of State’s office, against whom the lawsuit was filed, has joined in the request to dismiss the case.
While this new legislation is a positive step towards protecting ballot access for naturalized citizens, continued vigilance is needed to ensure all Mississippians are afforded an equal opportunity to register to vote, according to the Lawyers Committee and MCJ. Those organizations were assisted by the national law firm of Duane Morris, which participated pro bono in the case.
In addition to the unconstitutional provision explicitly singling out naturalized citizens for unequal treatment, the lawsuit targeted a flawed driver’s license database matching program that the Secretary of State implemented for voter registration. The program erroneously flagged some naturalized citizens as potential non-citizens, a practice that disproportionately affected voters of color. This resulted in the registration applications of many eligible voters being erroneously placed on hold. Under the new law, registrants flagged as potential non-citizens will now have their records double-checked against the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Systemic Alien Verification for Entitlements (“SAVE”) program, which maintains more up-to-date records of citizenship status. Only applicants who are flagged as potential non-citizens by both the driver’s license database and SAVE program will have their applications placed on hold while they are notified and required to provide proof of citizenship.
“Having gone through the naturalization process and pledged their allegiance to the nation, naturalized citizens deserve better than to be targeted for unequal treatment. Their patriotism deserves to be honored, not punished. The addition of this new safeguard will help prevent naturalized citizens from being erroneously blocked from registering to vote through no fault of their own,” said Ezra Rosenberg of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “While implementation of this new provision will require monitoring, we are pleased with this resolution and are committed to ensuring every eligible Mississippian is able to register to vote.”
“We would prefer that there be no database matching,” said Rob McDuff of the Mississippi Center for Justice. “There is no problem in Mississippi with non-citizens trying to vote. But given that the Secretary of State created such a database matching program, HB 1510 makes the situation better and decreases the number of erroneous non-matches. The bill also repeals the discriminatory 1924 statute that we challenged.”
“A fundamental belief of the League of Women Voters is that all Americans deserve equal opportunity to make their voices heard in our democracy, and we do that with our votes,” said Carol Andersen, co-president of the Mississippi LWV. “We are pleased this new legislation will remove unnecessary barriers for new citizens.”
“We are grateful that our legislators have taken this step to help ensure naturalized citizens can exercise their fundamental right to vote,” said Vangela M. Wade, president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice. “But we have a long way to go to fully protect Mississippians’ democratic rights. Today, many Mississippians, particularly people of color, face enormous hurdles to access the ballot box. We must continue removing barriers to voting and make access the standard, not the exception.”
The Mississippi Center for Justice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to dismantling the state’s culture of inequity and injustice. Support and staffed by attorneys and other professionals, the Center pursues strategies to combat discrimination and poverty statewide.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to mobilize the nation’s leading lawyers as agents for change in the Civil Rights Movement. Today, the Lawyers’ Committee uses legal advocacy to achieve racial justice, fighting inside and outside the courts to ensure that Black people and other people of color have the voice, opportunity, and power to make the promises of our democracy real. For more information, please visit https://lawyerscommittee.org.