Two nonpartisan civic engagement organizations, the League of Women Voters of Missouri (LWVMO) and Missouri State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (Missouri NAACP), filed a lawsuit challenging several parts of a new anti-voter law in Missouri.
The plaintiffs are represented by the Campaign Legal Center (CLC), American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri (ACLU MO) and Missouri Voter Protection Coalition (MOVPC).
Among other things, the challenged law – H.B. 1878 – violates civic engagement organizations’ right to core political speech by severely curtailing their ability to engage in voter registration activity and assist with absentee ballot applications.
In May, the Missouri legislature passed H.B. 1878 through a rushed and opaque process which concluded in the final days of the legislative session.
The law is set to go into effect on August 28, and though it wasn’t in effect for the primary, the changes will be in effect for the November 8 general election. It imposes severe restrictions on basic voter outreach and assistance, which are backed by harsh criminal sanctions.
Specifically, the law prohibits compensating people for certain voter registration activities and mandates that anyone who assists with more than 10 voter registration applications – which happens regularly at community engagement events – must register with the state and must be a registered voter themself.
The law is so vague that even reimbursement for parking or free pizza at a voter registration event could put volunteers and organizations at risk of prosecution. The law also forbids anyone from suggesting a voter should obtain an absentee ballot application, denying many Missourians the opportunity to vote in a secure and convenient way.
LWVMO and MO NAACP, as well as their volunteers, reasonably fear that H.B. 1878 would criminalize many of their most basic voter outreach efforts. Under this law’s language, the ban on absentee ballot solicitation 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.
Absent court action, H.B. 1878’s changes to Missouri’s election laws will create deliberate barriers to voter registration and absentee voting, which will be most acute in communities of color.
These restrictions on civic engagement organizations threaten their ability to hold community-based voter engagement events, obtain and retain volunteers to assist voters and chill their constitutionally protected political speech.
Many Missouri voters have been able to participate in our democracy thanks to the work of nonpartisan civic engagement groups who help people register to vote or apply for an absentee ballot.
Instead of encouraging and supporting the work of these groups to drive voter turnout, Missouri legislators criminalized basic voter engagement activities and restricted access to absentee voting.
Civic engagement organizations help make sure every voice is heard, including voters of color who have been historically marginalized. Our laws should protect and expand the freedom to vote, not punish democracy’s do-gooders and make it more challenging for Missourians to register to vote or vote absentee.