In Win for Voters, Missouri Judge Blocks Law Restricting Voter Engagement Activity

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A judge for the Cole County Circuit Court granted a preliminary injunction in LWVMO and Missouri NAACP v. Missouri, blocking enforcement of several provisions in Missouri’s H.B. 1878. Specifically, the lawsuit challenged restrictions that criminalized certain voter engagement activities and assistance with absentee ballot applications conducted by civic engagement groups. 

The plaintiffs, League of Women Voters of Missouri (LWVMO) and Missouri State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (Missouri NAACP), are represented by Campaign Legal Center (CLC), American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri (ACLU MO) and the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition (MOVPC) in the lawsuit. 

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 and hampering their ability to spread their pro-voter message. The Court further determined that the challenged provisions are impermissibly vague, failing to give notice of what conduct is actually permitted.   

The lawsuit specifically challenged provisions in the law that prohibit compensating people for voter registration activities and mandate that anyone who assists with more than ten voter registration applications—which happens regularly at community engagement events—must be a registered voter and must register with the state or be subject to criminal penalties. 

Additionally, the law prohibits "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 is 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. 

Voter engagement groups in the state, including plaintiffs League of Women Voters of Missouri and the Missouri NAACP, applauded the decision. The civic engagement groups and their attorneys pointed out that the law’s restrictions do not make elections any safer, but instead criminalize the very organizations that work around the clock to make our democracy stronger and more accessible.  

Additionally, anti-voter laws historically have had a disproportionate impact on Black voters. With this ruling, which recognized that the work of engaging voters in our democracy is protected by the Missouri Constitution, civic engagement groups will be able to assist the voters who are most affected by H.B. 1878 moving forward. 

The preliminary injunction order was released a mere four days before the 2022 general election, hamstringing the work that civic engagement groups could do to get out the vote ahead of the election this year.  

The law has been in effect since August 2022 and, while it is unfortunate that the restrictions on civic engagement groups have chilled their speech and stifled their voter engagement activity for so long, it is a relief that organizations like the LWV MO and the Missouri NAACP will be able to continue their critical work without fear of criminal prosecution.