Republican officials in Missouri imposed new restrictions on longstanding forms of community outreach to voters including assistance with both registering to vote and completing a request for an absentee ballot, and these new rules are now the subject of a state lawsuit in Cole County from the League of Women Voters of Missouri and the Missouri NAACP.
The challenged law makes it illegal for anyone soliciting voter registration forms to receive payment for their work, which could seriously curtail the operations of community outreach and voter engagement groups. Notably, solicitation isn’t precisely defined in the wide-reaching bill, meaning the level of outreach required to meet the standard set by the law — and potentially face prosecution — isn’t clear. Additionally, anyone who solicits more than 10 voter registration applications also must register with the Missouri Secretary of State, and — thwarting the possibility of folks from nearby jurisdictions helping with voter outreach in Missouri — the law also mandates that anyone participating in the work the law demands be unpaid maintain a voter registration in Missouri. According to the challenged provisions, voter outreach personnel also can’t ask prospective voters if they want to complete absentee ballot request forms, and all of these measures are among the subjects of the new lawsuit.
The case names interests including the Missouri Secretary of State as defendants. There remains no evidence of any kind of systematic election fraud perpetrated via mail-in voting, meaning yet again these new rules are ostensibly responding to a set of problems that don’t actually exist.
“Individually and collectively, the Challenged Provisions chill and restrict Plaintiffs’ and other civic organizations’—as well as their members, volunteers, and staff—constitutionally protected speech,” the lawsuit says. “While the restrictions’ vague language prevents Plaintiffs from understanding the precise scope of covered speech and activities, Plaintiffs reasonably fear that HB 1878 criminalizes many of their current basic voter outreach efforts. Indeed, any prosecuting attorney or the Secretary of State could interpret the Absentee Ballot Solicitation Ban so broadly as to criminalize Plaintiffs for notifying a voter who will be out of town on Election Day of their eligibility to vote absentee. Regardless of what the Challenged Provisions precisely encompass, they harshly chill and restrict—and criminally sanction—commonplace community-based voter engagement.”
The lawsuit says provisions challenged in the case are in violation of the Missouri Constitution, including portions of the document providing rights to free speech, free association, and due process. There is also a new lawsuit in Missouri challenging demands that anyone voting at in-person polling places in the state present photo ID before casting their ballot. That lawsuit cites a lengthy list of groups who “disproportionately lack one of the acceptable forms of a non-expired photo ID to vote and face significant barriers to obtaining one,” including “racial minorities, people living in poverty, rural Missourians, students, senior citizens, Missourians with disabilities, Missourians returning from incarceration, [and] unhoused Missourians.”
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