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Citing constitutional concerns, Governor Reeves vetoes first bill of 2024 session

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune.

Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves answers a reporter’s question on his announcement of a tech company expected to invest $10 billion to build two data processing centers that will create 1,000 jobs in central Mississippi, during a Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, news conference in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

  • The legislation would have made the office of election commissioner nonpartisan while barring political parties from endorsing or contributing to candidates.

Governor Tate Reeves (R) has made his first veto of the 2024 Mississippi legislative session by striking down House Bill 922.

The bill, authored by State Representative Noah Sanford (R) would have provided that the office of election commissioner be nonpartisan. Sanford’s legislation would have also barred a political party or committee from endorsing or making contributions to a candidate for the office, a move Governor Reeves says is unconstitutional.

“As the United States District Court held more than twenty years ago, such a prohibition as applied to political parties unquestionably limits the core political speech of political parties and fundamentally impairs their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights without any compelling governmental interest,” said Governor Reeves in the veto message. “Thus, such a ban plainly is unconstitutional.

Reeves went on to reference the landmark case of EU v. San Francisco County Democratic Central Committee in 1989, in which the U.S. Supreme Court looked at the constitutionality of California’s prohibition on primary endorsements by political parties.  

The nation’s high Court found that “barring political parties from endorsing and opposing candidates not only burdens their freedom of speech but also infringes upon their freedom of association.”

In Governor Reeves’ veto message, he says the language is nearly identical to that of the Nonpartisan Judicial Election Act adopted in Mississippi five years after the EU decision. The Mississippi Republican Party filed a legal challenge, arguing the Act violated freedom of political speech. Reeves notes that the District Court ultimately held that judicial elections could remain nonpartisan but that there was no compelling interest to justify “directly suppress[ing] core political speech of a political party…”

Governor Reeves said that while he does not believe it was the intention of the members of the Mississippi Legislature who voted in favor of House Bill 922 to infringe upon the constitutional rights of political parties, he is compelled to veto the bill “to protect such fundamental rights and avoid the litigation that it will inevitably generate.”

For most counties, the bill allowed for five election commissioners to be chosen to serve a term of four years beginning in 2024. Those elected would be required to attend a training seminar presented by the Secretary of State’s office.

State Rep. Noah Sanford (R)

Author of the bill, State Representative Sanford, said he understood the Governor’s issues with the subsection of the legislation and did not fault him for the veto. However, Sanford indicated the issue could still be addressed in the future.

“This may delay us until next year, but it is my intention to make the office of Election Commissioner nonpartisan,” said Sanford. “Those in charge of running elections and counting votes should be the furthest removed from partisan politics.”

Read the full veto message below:

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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