JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Civil rights activists sued Missouri on Wednesday over a decades-old law that prohibits volunteers from offering ballot-booth help to multiple voters who have physical disabilities or are unable to read or write.
The federal lawsuit contends Missouri's limits on voter assistance violate federal voting law and should be struck down. It's the latest of dozens of voting-related lawsuits across the U.S., as election procedures have come under increased scrutiny both from those seeking to guarantee access and ensure integrity.
The federal Voting Rights Act allows people who have disabilities or are unable to read or write to choose someone to help them vote.
A 1977 Missouri law outlines a similar procedure but says no one can assist more than one voter per election unless they are an election judge or helping immediate family members. Violations of state election laws can result in up to a year imprisonment and up to a $2,500 fine.
"This lawsuit seeks to prevent the state from punishing some of democracy’s do-gooders – those who take time to assist voters who are informed and eager to cast a ballot,” said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft is the lead defendant in the lawsuit. A spokesman said Ashcroft “will vigorously defend the right of Missourians to run elections in our state.”
A similar lawsuit was filed in 2020 challenging an Arkansas law that prohibits people from helping more than six voters cast a ballot. That case is ongoing.