LWV Mississippi, Disability Rights Mississippi, and three voters filed a federal lawsuit against S.B. 2358, a law severely limiting who could help voters return their absentee ballots. Under the law’s provisions, only elections officials, family members, or a care giver, a term undefined in the statute, may return a voter’s absentee ballot on their behalf. Persons who violate this provision are subject to criminal penalties. The lawsuit asserts S.B. 2358 violates Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act, which allows voters who need assistance to vote by reason of blindness, disability, or inability to read or write to choose who may assist them, except for employers, union officers and their agents.
On March 23, 2023, Governor Tate Reeves signed S.B. 2358 into law. Under Mississippi law, voters with disabilities are allowed to request and vote using absentee ballots. S.B. 2358 bans anyone other than legally authorized post office and government employees, common carriers like FedEx, and family members, caretakers, and household members from assisting with the return of voters’ absentee ballots. Violations are punishable by up to one year in county jail, and/or fines of up to $3,000. Trusted friends, neighbors, and voter service organizations like the League would be banned from helping voters return their absentee ballots under the new law.
The League of Women Voters of Mississippi (LWV-MS), Disability Rights Mississippi, and three Mississippi voters filed a federal lawsuit seeking a court order declaring S.B. 2358 unconstitutional and a preliminary injunction barring its enforcement. Plaintiffs asserted the law violated Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act, which states, “Any voter who requires assistance to vote by reason of blindness, disability, or inability to read or write may 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.” 52 U.S.C. §10508.
For the purposes of the Voting Rights Act, voting includes, “all action necessary to make a vote effective in any primary, special, or general election, including, but not limited to, registration, listing pursuant to this chapter, or other action required by law prerequisite to voting, casting a ballot, and having such ballot counted properly and included in the appropriate totals of votes cast.” 52 U.S.C. §10310 (c )(1).
The League and co-plaintiffs are represented in this matter by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Mississippi Center for Justice, Disability Rights Mississippi, ACLU of Mississippi, and ACLU Foundation.
Governor Tate Reeves signs S.B. 2358
Governor Tate Reeves signs S.B. 2358, which bans persons other than post office and authorized government employees, common carriers, and undefined ‘family members, members of the same household, and caregivers’ from assisting voters with delivery of their absentee ballot.
LWV Mississippi moves for a preliminary injunction
LWV Mississippi files for a preliminary injunction, requesting the court prevent S.B. 2358 from going into effect on July 1, require state officials to allow disabled voters to request assistance as stated in Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act, and mandate the issuance of official guidance stating disabled voters could seek assistance of their choice under Section 208.
Court grants preliminary injunction
The court issues an order forbidding S.B. 2358 from taking effect for the 2023 primary and general elections in Mississippi. The order states the law's criminal penalties and unclear definitions of key terms deter lawful assistance of voters permitted under Section 208 of the Civil Rights Act of 1965.
Defendants appeal to circuit court of appeals
The defendants file a notice of appeal at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Defendants file opening brief
Defendants file their opening brief in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing Section 208 did not preempt S.B. 2358. The brief further argues the text of Section 208 allows states to restrict who may assist voters covered by the provision. Finally, defendants assert the preliminary injunction should either be reversed or limited only to the three individual plaintiffs.