In a letter dated July 12, 2018, the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office stated that the Mississippi Secretary of State will bring the state into compliance with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (52 U.S.C. § 20507 (“NVRA”) (52 U.S.C § 20507 “NVRA”) by allowing eligible Mississippians to register to vote up to thirty (30) days prior to all elections for federal offices, including runoff elections, in response to a June 22, 2018 demand for compliance issued to the Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law along with the Mississippi Center for Justice and the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP.
Previously, the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office had taken the position that only Mississippians who registered to vote at least thirty days prior to the initial primary or special election would be eligible to vote in a runoff election when a candidate failed to receive a majority of the vote. This position is in conflict with Section 8 of the NVRA because that law prohibits states from requiring citizens to register more than thirty days prior to any election for federal offices – including runoff elections.
“By lifting unlawful and unnecessary barriers to registration, we make it easier for people to participate in the democratic process. Would-be voters in Mississippi were denied a full and fair opportunity to register and vote as required under the NVRA,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We are pleased that our action prompted the Mississippi Attorney General and Secretary of State to do the right things and modify their policies and practices as federal law requires. This action means that people across Mississippi will now have the full benefit of the registration period required by the NVRA in future elections for federal runoff elections.”
The NVRA compliance demand was issued by Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, with assistance by its pro bono counsel, Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP along with the Mississippi Center for Justice, and Carroll Rhodes, Esq., counsel for the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP.
“Artificial and unnecessarily restrictive barriers to the ballot box often dissuade and prevent eligible Mississippians from participating in our elections,” said Carroll Rhodes, counsel for the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP. “Our eligible members and all eligible Mississippians should ensure that they are registered to vote and take advantage of this change in the State’s voter registration policy if they are unable to register in time for a federal election that leads to a runoff election,” said Rhodes.
“We commend the State of Mississippi for recognizing that federal law prohibits states from setting voter-registration deadlines more than 30 days prior to any election for federal office, including a runoff,” said Ryan Phair, a partner at Hunton Andrews Kurth. “The National Voter Registration Act protects and strengthens our democratic process, and compliance with its requirements is essential to ensure that all eligible citizens can exercise their right to vote.”
“We welcome Secretary of State Hosemann’s prompt action to cure Mississippi’s violation of the MVRA for registration in runoff elections,” noted Mississippi Center for Justice President and CEO Reilly Morse. “As always, we encourage all Mississippians to register and vote in every election.”
Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act requires states to ensure that any person can vote in an election for a federal office if he or she registers to vote at least 30 days before that election. The governing federal statute specifically defines “election” as including runoff elections. Mississippi law had been interpreted to not allow persons to vote in federal runoff elections if he or she had not registered in time for the first round of the election necessitating the runoff. This interpretation, however, is inconsistent with the federal law, and must give way to the controlling federal law.
If prospective applicants have any questions about the deadlines for registering to vote in Mississippi, they may call the national, nonpartisan Election Protection hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE for additional information.
To read the demand for compliance letter written to Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, click here.
To read the response from the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, click here.
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Press Release