VICTORY: Judge Blocks Restrictions on Voter Registration Activity and Distribution of Absentee Ballot Applications
Jefferson City, Mo. — This afternoon, a judge for the Cole County Circuit Court granted a preliminary injunction in our LWV MO and Missouri NAACP v. Missouri lawsuit, which blocks enforcement of several provisions in H.B. 1878 that criminalizes voter engagement activity and distribution of absentee ballot applications conducted by civic engagement groups.
The law imposed severe restrictions on basic voter outreach and assistance efforts, backed by serious criminal sanctions. The judge agreed these provisions likely violated civic engagement groups’ right to core political speech by severely curtailing their ability to engage with voters.
The plaintiffs, League of Women Voters of Missouri (LWVMO) and Missouri State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP of Missouri), are represented by Campaign Legal Center (CLC), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Missouri and the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition (MOVPC) in the lawsuit.
“We applaud the Court’s ruling, which blocks enforcement of H.B 1878’s restrictions on what civic engagement organizations like the League of Women Voters of Missouri and the Missouri NAACP can do to educate and engage with voters. Instead of making our elections any safer, the law criminalizes the very organizations that work around the clock to make our democracy stronger and more accessible,” said Danielle Lang, senior director of voting rights at Campaign Legal Center. “Voter engagement is political speech. While the 2022 election is only a few days away, this ruling means that civic engagement organizations will be able to engage with voters over the weekend and in future elections, so every Missourian can make their voice heard.”
“We’re delighted that the court recognized the League's essential role in encouraging and enabling all eligible Missourians to participate in our democracy,” said Marilyn McLeod, president of the League of Women Voters of Missouri. “Although we only have a few days before the 2022 general election, this preliminary injunction lets the League’s paid staff and volunteers breathe easier as we continue our work to help voters.”
“We are gratified that the court has yet again sided with the rights of the NAACP and voters who work to protect the right to vote,” said Nimrod Chapel, Jr., President of the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP. “The NAACP has long led the fight for African American voting rights. In these Jim Crow provisions, lawmakers stripped us of critical ways to engage our communities by criminalizing our ability to encourage voting and good Citizenship. Black voters have been disproportionately harmed by these restrictions. With today’s ruling, we will uplift our voices loud and strong to protect the right to vote heading into next week’s critical elections.”
“Voter engagement and education are central to the mission of both the League of Women Voters of Missouri and the Missouri NAACP. While we remain disappointed that the Missouri legislature passed these provisions in HB 1878 that violate free speech in the first place, we are grateful that the court has recognized the harm they have caused and has issued a decision to prevent future harm.” said Gillian Wilcox, Deputy Director for Litigation at the ACLU of Missouri.
“The court recognized that the work of engaging voters in our democracy is protected by our constitution. The challenged measures in HB1878 criminalized efforts to encourage voter registration and voter participation,” said Denise Lieberman, Director & General Counsel of the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition. “It is unfortunate that the measures chilled voter engagement activity as long as they did, but after today’s ruling, Missouri’s civic engagement organizations can rest assured that they can go about their critical work in the days leading into next week’s elections without fear of criminal prosecution.”
The lawsuit specifically challenged provisions in the law that prohibited compensating people for voter registration activities and mandated that anyone who assists with more than 10 voter registration applications – which happens regularly at community engagement events – must both register with the state and be a registered voter themself, subject to criminal penalties.
Additionally, the law prohibited "soliciting” a voter into obtaining an absentee ballot application, which denied eligible Missourians the help they needed to vote in a secure and convenient way. In fact, the bill’s language was so vague that the ban on “soliciting” absentee ballot applications could be used to criminalize a volunteer who tells a voter that will be out of town on Election Day that they can vote absentee.
Failing to comply with these strict and confusing prohibitions could have put innocent volunteers on the wrong side of the law and, in Missouri, violating election laws could mean losing the freedom to vote for life.
The preliminary injunction was granted a mere four days before the 2022 general election, hamstringing the work civic engagement groups could do to get out the vote ahead of the election this year. Nevertheless, LWV MO and Missouri NAACP will continue working to fulfill their mission to bring as many Missouri voters into the political process as possible.