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Mississippi Voters Threatened by Illegal Purge, if New Bill Passes Legislature PDF  | Print |  Email
By Project Vote   
February 26, 2008
Senate Bill 2910 Would Force Nonvoters to Reregister in Violation of Federal Voting Rights Law

A new bill working its way through the Mississippi State Legislature threatens the hard-won voting rights of elderly, minority, and disabled voters throughout the state. Senate Bill 2910 was proposed as an election reform cure-all, but one of its provisions would likely result in thousands of voters being purged from the voting rolls in violation of federal law.

Filed by State Senator Terry C. Burton and supported by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, SB 2910 would cancel the registration of any voter if he or she did not “appear to vote” in a single election between Nov. 3, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2009. Purged voters would then have to reregister before they could vote in subsequent elections. If signed into law, the bill would take effect in January 2009.

In a letter to Senator Burton and copied to Secretary of State Hosemann, the national voting rights organization Project Vote notified Burton that the bill violates the federal National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). The NVRA explicitly prohibits states from removing any voter from the rolls as a consequence of failing to vote.

“This is the most obviously impermissible idea I have seen in terms of an attempt to clean up the voter rolls,” said attorney Estelle Rogers, a voting rights expert and consultant to Project Vote. “While maintaining accurate rolls is a necessary goal, this ill-conceived plan is a cure that is more danger to the electorate than the disease,” Rogers said.

The National Voter Registration Act was enacted in 1993 to increase participation in federal elections by making registration easier and more accessible. It is commonly known as the “motor voter” law for its requirement that states offer voter registration at motor vehicle departments. An equally important but less well known provision, Section 8,  establishes safeguards against improper or discriminatory purges. Section 8 was meant to curb practices such as annual registration that had been used in the past to keep African Americans and low-income Whites off of the voter rolls in many Southern states.

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