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Bill says Mississippi could check for voters’ US citizenship

Mississippi’s top elections official told lawmakers Tuesday that he wants the power to check whether registered voters in the state are also U.S. citizens.

A senator who opposes the bill called it “radical” and said it could disenfranchise thousands of citizens.

Republican Secretary of State Michael Watson took office in January. He is pushing for a bill that would give his office the power to check voters’ names against databases from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or other federal, state or county agencies.

If questions arise about whether someone is a citizen, that person would have 30 days to provide documents such as naturalization papers or a passport to prove citizenship, Watson said.

“I think we all believe that only United States citizens should be voting,” Watson said.

Democratic Sen. David Blount of Jackson spoke against Senate Bill 2670 during a committee meeting Tuesday. He called it “the most radical, dangerous, shameful” piece of election legislation since he joined the Senate in 2008.

Blount said it could hurt citizens in a state that has a “sorry history” of suppressing voting rights of African Americans. He also said the legislation is vague about how voters would be given notice that they have been put on a list of people who must show proof of citizenship.

Blount asked: “How many thousands and thousands of legally registered Mississippians are we going to purge?”

Republican Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville asked Watson if people who are not U.S. citizens are voting in Mississippi.

“I would say yes,” Watson said, though he did not give examples.

The bill passed the Senate Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee and goes to the full Republican-controlled Senate for more debate.

A federal judge ruled in 2018 that Kansas cannot require people to prove their U.S. citizenship when they register to vote. Proof-of-citizenship laws for voters have also been blocked in Alabama and Georgia. Arizona is the only state with a law in effect, but people can fulfill the proof-of-citizenship requirement by writing their driver’s license number on the voter registration form.

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