31 May Voting Rights Groups File Litigation to Protect Voting Rights of Mississippians with Disabilities
For Immediate Release
May 31, 2023
Media Contact: Mandesha Thornton, email@example.com / 601.352.2269 ext. 147
Voting Rights Groups File Litigation to Protect Voting Rights of Mississippians with Disabilities
Lawsuit challenges bill that blocks most Mississippians from helping friends, neighbors deliver absentee ballots
JACKSON, Miss. — Today, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Mississippi Center for Justice, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU-MS and Disability Rights Mississippi (DRMS) filed a federal lawsuit challenging S.B. 2358, newly passed legislation that significantly diminishes access to the ballot for Mississippians with disabilities. The case was filed on behalf of DRMS, the League of Women Voters of Mississippi and three Mississippi voters.
The anti-voter bill applies harsh criminal penalties to Mississippians who help members of their communities vote by absentee ballot. It blocks anyone — including a friend, neighbor or volunteer of a voter services group — from helping a Mississippi voter submit an absentee ballot unless they are an election official, postal worker, family member or caregiver. Since the term caregiver isn’t defined, staff of healthcare institutions are also chilled from helping residents with voting.
The lawsuit claims that S.B. 2358 violates the right of Mississippians with disabilities to receive assistance in voting from the person of their choice, as recognized in Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act. A copy of the complaint can be found HERE.
“Voters — especially those with disabilities — depend on the assistance of community groups, friends, and neighbors,” said Peg Ciraldo, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Mississippi. “Now these neighborly efforts are being criminalized, and Mississippi voters in need of assistance are being silenced. Democracy in Mississippi cannot be whole when these voters are disenfranchised.”
“For over 100 years, the League of Women Voters has assisted American voters in making their voices heard at the ballot box,” said Celina Stewart, chief counsel and senior director of advocacy and litigation at the League of Women Voters of the US. “Bills like Mississippi’s S.B. 2358 are a direct attack on the vital services of organizations like the League. Voters have a right to ballot assistance, as outlined in the Voting Rights Act. S.B. 2358 effectively silences voters who depend on voter assistance to cast their ballots.”
“Every voter in the state of Mississippi has the right to participate in their democracy,” said Ming Cheung, staff attorney at the ACLU. “Voting in Mississippi is extraordinarily difficult, and many voters experiencing disabilities and other challenges must rely on their friends and community members for assistance with absentee voting. The ACLU will continue to stand with the voters of Mississippi to ensure their access to the ballot box is not infringed upon.”
“Anti-voter politicians are trying to deny a fair voice in government to Mississippians with disabilities while criminalizing their friends and neighbors who want to help them deliver absentee ballots,” said Ahmed Soussi, staff attorney for voting rights with the SPLC. “This bill would diminish American democracy by punishing volunteers who facilitate voting for historically discriminated against communities.”
“Ensuring inclusive and accessible voting is the cornerstone of a thriving democracy,” said Greta Kemp Martin, Litigation Director of DRMS. “Mississippi’s leaders should prioritize enabling universal access to the ballot box and fostering a culture of community-driven voter empowerment. Instead, they are focusing on impeding individuals with disabilities from receiving assistance with ballot delivery and unjustly criminalizing the compassionate volunteers who extend a helping hand to their fellow citizens. It is cruel and against the spirit of American democracy.”
“This bill is the latest in a long history of attacks on the right to vote in Mississippi,” Joshua Tom, legal director at the ACLU of Mississippi, said. “S.B. 2358 directly targets Mississippians with disabilities and diminishes the voices of the voters lawmakers have been elected to serve. Our lawmakers should be focused on fighting for the people — not on schemes like S.B. 2358 that are engineered to weaken the agency and power of their constituents.”
“Mississippians deserve to vote with confidence,” said Rob McDuff, director of the George Riley Impact Litigation Initiative at the Mississippi Center for Justice. “Many people in difficult situations rely on friends and neighbors to help deliver absentee ballots. This legislation would prevent that. We stand with the voters of Mississippi and with those who strive to make voting more accessible and ensure the power remains with the people.”
S.B. 2358 effectively deters volunteers from helping members of their community vote and is part of a larger trend of attacks on nonpartisan volunteers by anti-voter politicians. In 2020, Georgia passed S.B. 202 which criminalized handing out food and water to people waiting in long lines to vote and made it a felony for friends or neighbors to assist with ballot return. In 2021, Florida passed S.B. 524, which similarly restricts who can deliver an absentee ballot.