Judge tosses lawsuit accusing Mississippi of discriminatory proof-of-citizenship requirement

A federal judge officially nixed a lawsuit on Tuesday that accused the state of Mississippi of using an allegedly discriminatory proof-of-citizenship requirement for voters under a law that goes all the way back to the Jim Crow era.

The dismissal of the lawsuit comes just weeks after the state repealed a 1924 law that required naturalized citizens to provide proof of citizenship when they register to vote.

A new law has taken the place of the repealed one and although voting rights groups aren’t thrilled over it, they are tentatively accepting it because it should protect naturalized citizens from being flagged as noncitizens when they register to vote.

According to the Associated Press, the secretary of state in Mississippi has been running names of potential new voters through a state Department of Public Safety database of people with Mississippi driver’s licenses and identification cards. Voting rights advocates have called foul over the practice, claiming that it disproportionately hurts people of color, tagging them as possible noncitizens.

Per the new legislation, if the public safety database queries a person’s citizenship, the potential new voter’s name has to go through a federal immigration database.

“We would prefer that there be no database matching,” Rob McDuff, who is an attorney for the Mississippi Center for Justice said in a news release on Tuesday. “There is no problem in Mississippi with non-citizens trying to vote. But given that the secretary of state created such a database matching program, (the new law) makes the situation better and decreases the number of erroneous non-matches.”

Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Mississippi Center for Justice both sued the state in 2019 on behalf of the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance and the League of Women Voters of Mississippi.

“No state in the United States other than Mississippi subjects naturalized citizens to a higher proof-of-citizenship requirement for voter registration than U.S.-born citizens,” the lawsuit contended.

Both the plaintiffs and the defendants asked U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves to dismiss the suit on Tuesday. That also included the secretary of state’s office. The judge granted the request and negated the suit.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed House Bill 1510 into law on April 14. He asserted that it “ensures that only American citizens are able to vote in Mississippi.”

“There will be those on the left who will claim that we are making it harder for American citizens to vote,” the governor declared. “Those claims are false.”

“Their patriotism deserves to be honored, not punished,” Ezra Rosenberg of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said. “The addition of this new safeguard will help prevent naturalized citizens from being erroneously blocked from registering to vote through no fault of their own.”

House Bill 1510 passed the Mississippi House 114-5 with broad bipartisan support. It then passed in the Senate 38-13 where most Democrats opposed it.

Reeves slammed New York City when he signed the law. The Big Apple enacted a law in January that allows non-citizens to vote in its municipal elections but not in state or federal elections.

The governor accused “radical activists” of pushing open the ballot box to approximately 800,000 non-citizens.

Since then, over a dozen communities across the country have allowed noncitizens to vote in local elections. Those include two towns in Vermont and 11 in Maryland.

“We’re not going to allow liberals, whether they’re in New York or Washington, DC, to tell us how to run our local elections,” the governor proclaimed.

The new law asserts that a person whose citizenship status is in question has 30 days to prove they are a citizen with a birth certificate, a U.S. passport, or naturalization documents. If they fail to do so, their name will be marked “pending” in the Statewide Elections Management System until the next federal general election.

The voter could cast a provisional ballot during the federal election but would have to prove citizenship within five days for their vote to count. If the person does not vote in the federal election, their name would be marked “rejected” in the Statewide Elections Management System.

Vangela M. Wade, who is the president and CEO of the Mississippi Center For Justice, said in a statement on Tuesday that “we have a long way to go to fully protect Mississippians’ democratic rights.”

“Today, many Mississippians, particularly people of color, face enormous hurdles to access the ballot box,” she disingenuously claimed. “We must continue removing barriers to voting and make access the standard, not the exception.”

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