JACKSON, Miss. — A federal court has granted a request by Disability Rights Mississippi, the League of Women Voters of Mississippi, and three Mississippi voters to block S.B. 2358 — a newly implemented state law that significantly diminishes access to the ballot for Mississippians who need assistance with voting.
Under the court’s order, Mississippi voters who need assistance due to disability, blindness, or inability to read or write may select a person of their choice to assist them with delivering or returning their absentee mail-in ballot. The court ruled S.B. 2358 violated Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the state cannot use that law to punish individuals who provide assistance to such voters.
The order will apply to the current primary election and the upcoming general election in November.
The case was filed on behalf of Disability Rights Mississippi and the League of Women Voters of Mississippi by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Mississippi Center for Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, and ACLU of Mississippi.
“Mississippi voters in need of assistance to vote can be assured that their voices will be heard at the ballot box,” said Peg Ciraldo, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Mississippi. “The League and its members can now continue its critical work to advocate for all voters, especially those who depend on us to return their absentee ballot.”
Mississippi’s S.B. 2358 is part of a trend in laws targeting voter services organizations that assist voters, said Celina Stewart, chief counsel and senior director of advocacy and litigation at the League of Women Voters of the US. "We're pleased that the court here has blocked this law to protect the vital work done by organizations like the League and the voters who would be disenfranchised by preventing those organizations from assisting them.
“This is a huge win for voters in Mississippi,” said Ming Cheung, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “We are pleased that voters with a disability or language barrier can continue receiving assistance with their ballot, the same way that they have in past elections. Rather than making voting harder, Mississippi should pass legislation to expand opportunities for voting so that all citizens can participate in their democracy.”
“All eligible voters in Mississippi should be able to exercise their right to vote without unnecessary — and as the court found improper — impediments by the state government,” said Joshua Tom, legal director at the ACLU of Mississippi. “This is a win for Mississippians with disabilities and a win for voting rights.”
“Mississippians may now continue to assist voters without the fear of prosecution,” said Ahmed Soussi, staff attorney with the SPLC’s Voting Rights Practice Group. “We are glad that the Court recognized the federal guarantee to voters with a disability or language barrier to select a person of their choice to provide them assistance. What is important now is to make sure everyone who is eligible to vote does vote in the upcoming elections.”
“Mississippians deserve to vote with confidence,” said Rob McDuff, director of the Impact Litigation Initiative at the Mississippi Center for Justice. “Many people in difficult situations rely on friends and neighbors to help deliver absentee ballots. We are glad that voters with disabilities and language barriers can freely exercise their right to vote with assistance from a person of their choosing.”
“Mississippians with disabilities have a right to vote without barriers and to have access to fully participate in all areas of civic life,” said Greta Kemp Martin, litigation director of Disability Rights Mississippi. “We are pleased the court has recognized this and that Mississippians with disabilities can rest assured that they may cast their ballot in whichever manner is most accessible to them, including having the assistance of a person of their own choosing.”
The court order can be viewed HERE.