The bill passed 36-16, with all the support coming from Republicans and all the opposition from Democrats.
The bill would also require county election commissioners would be required to remove the name of a person who fails to vote at least once during a four-year period and fails to respond to certified mail that seeks to confirm the person still lives at the address where he or she is registered.
Voters’ names could not be removed within 90 days of an election, and the county would have to maintain records for at least two years showing a purged name.
Senate Election Committee Chairman Jeff Tate, a Republican from Meridian, said removing a name under this proposal would take six to eight years.
Under current Mississippi law, county election commissioners may remove a name if a voter has died, moved away, been judged mentally incompetent or been convicted of a disenfranchising crime.
Legislators pushing for the change say outdated voter rolls make it difficult for courts to find enough people for jury service.
“The rationale is to clean our voter rolls, to make sure that we maintain good voter rolls,” Tate said during the Senate debate.
Democrats opposing the bill said it would hurt people who choose not to vote for whatever reason — maybe they just don’t like the candidates running for many years — but suddenly are motivated to vote because they find a candidate who appeals to them.
“For tens of thousands of people in Mississippi, eligible voters who haven’t done a thing in the world except choose not to vote in every single election and didn’t get a postcard, or whatever the thing is, they are going to be denied their right to vote by the tens of thousands, and you know it,” said Democratic Sen. Hob Bryan of Amory. “You know for certain that will happen.”
According to the ACLU of Mississippi, the bill as it stands, “is only a serious attempt at voter suppression.”
Mississippi has about 1.9 million registered voters, and about 1.3 million voted in November.
SB 2588 will now move to the Mississippi House for a vote.