Limits on Laypersons Assisting Voters Inside the Polls

Although the voter ID law itself was not taken up, debate about voter ID and voter fraud spilled over into debate about another bill: SB 2768. This bill as initially brought up would have set the maximum number of voters that a particular person who was not a poll worker could assist at the polling place to 10. The bill was explained by Senator David Blount (D-Jackson), on behalf of Senator Chris McDaniel (R-Ellisville) who was not present in the Senate today. “The reasoning for this is … there are cases the Secretary of State has uncovered in counties across this state where people are going into the polling place with dozens and dozens of voters to provide assistance—there’s a possibility that that leads to coercion, and that’s what the bill is trying to stop.”

Blount faced some tough questioning by other members of the body. “Why limit it to 10?” asked Senator David Jordan (D-Greenwood). “It may be 500 grandmothers out there that need assisting. They ought to be assisted by their choice…the election official may not be their choice.” “If I felt like this would inhibit anybody’s right to vote, I wouldn’t be up here handling this bill and supporting it,” answered Blount. Blount noted, “the only people under current law who are entitled to request assistance…have to be blind, or disabled, or unable to read or write,” suggesting that relatively few people would be affected by the bill. Senator Phillip A. Gandy (R-Waynesboro) raised the issue of “haulers,” vans that gather up large amounts of people and drive them to the polling place, potentially telling the people who to vote for. Blount answered that the process as described is entirely legal, so long as people are allowed to go alone into the actual voting booth. “I’m all for that,” Blount said, referring to groups of people driving from house to house to bring voters to the polls.

Senator Jackson offered an amendment to raise the limit of the number of people that one person can assist from 10 to 20. Senator Hob Bryan (D-Amory) took the opportunity to speak about voter fraud in general, bringing in the issue of voter ID. “We hear much discussion of voter fraud, and the remedy that’s proposed is this inane voter ID. There is no voter fraud which occurs by someone masquerading at the polls as another individual. You have voter ID, you have zero impact on voter fraud. What you do, however, is establish a fairly serious hurdle that will in fact disenfranchise a bunch of people and keep them from voting.” Bryan noted only two places where significant voter fraud actually happens: absentee ballots and voter assistance. “There is a legitimate need for individuals who have difficulty voting to have assistance,” Bryan said, but also argued “yes, you could dream up some hypothetical situation [if this bill is adopted], I guess with somebody who just couldn’t find anybody to assist him, but the chances of that happening are extremely remote.” Bryan declared his support for both the amendment and the bill. The amendment passed.

Senator Kelvin E. Butler (D-McComb) also offered an amendment that would have ensured that the bill went to a Conference Committee for further consideration if passed by the House, but the amendment failed. Senator Jackson spoke vociferously against the bill (http://www.zshare.net/download/9940570816512ecc/), saying that “Mississippi ought to be the last state to oppress voters…we don’t need this Jim Crow dressed up to move us backwards.” The bill passed, 39 to 11.