Statement by AG Lynn Fitch on Integrity of the Ballot

See Attorney General Lynn Fitch's full statement below: 

"My Office has received complaints about schools engaging in political activities, including sending sample ballots marked with a clear Party preference home with elementary aged students.  While we will evaluate and investigate each instance as appropriate, I wanted to take this opportunity to remind public employees of the clear requirements under the law to refrain from campaigning with public resources or during work hours.

Section 23-15-871 of the Mississippi Code very clearly prohibits all public employees of the state, state district, county and county district, and any board or commission and its members from using public funds to influence how someone votes.[i]  The prohibition extends to:

  • Directing or coercing, directly or indirectly, an employee to vote a certain way;
  • Discharging or threatening to discharge an employee for his vote or failure to vote a certain way;
  • Increasing or decreasing the salary or wages of, or otherwise promoting or demoting, an employee for his vote or failure to vote a certain way;
  • Making a public or private statement, where the individual has the authority to employ or discharge employees, calculated to intimidate, coerce, or otherwise influence an employee’s vote, or failing to publicly repudiate such a statement when it obtains circulation;
  • Requesting or directing an employee to canvass for a candidate or render services for or against a candidate;
  • Canvassing or rendering services for a candidate during hours for which salary is paid;
  • Providing vacation or leave at the expense of the employer to an employee to render services or take an active part in an election campaign on behalf of a candidate, with the exception of casting his vote at the necessary time; and
  • Stating, suggesting, or intimating, publicly or privately, that the expenditure of public funds may depend upon or be influenced by a vote.

Furthermore, a public entity may not actively campaign for a favored position or expend public funds to influence the outcome of an election.[ii]

The Attorney General’s Office is committed to securing the integrity of our elections.  To the extent public entities have questions about what is proper and what is not, my office is ready to assist and help head off issues before they become problems.  Please email us at opinions@ago.ms.gov or call 601-359-3279 to reach a member of my Opinions and Policy staff for assistance."

 

[i] (1) No corporation or any officer or employee thereof, or any member of a firm, or trustee or any member of any association, or any other employer, may direct or coerce, directly or indirectly, any employee to vote or not to vote for any particular person or group of persons in any election, or to discharge or to threaten to discharge any such employee, or to increase or decrease the salary or wages of an employee, or otherwise promote or demote the employee, because of his or her vote or failure to vote for any particular candidate or group of candidates.

(2) No employer, or employee having the authority to employ or discharge other employees, may make any statement public or private, or give out or circulate any report or statement, calculated to intimidate or coerce or otherwise influence any vote of an employee, and when any such statement has been circulated, it shall be the duty of the employer to publicly repudiate it or the employer shall be deemed by way of ratification to have made it himself or herself.

(3) No employee may be requested, directed or permitted to canvass for or against any candidate or render any other services for or against any candidate or group of candidates, during any of the hours within which the salary of the employee as an employee is being paid or agreed to be paid. No employee may be allowed any vacation or leave of absence at the expense of the employer to render any service or services for or against any candidate or group of candidates, or to take any active part in any election campaign whatsoever, except the necessary time to cast his or her vote.

(4) The prohibitions of this section shall apply to all state, state district, county and county district officers, and to any board or commission and the members thereof by whatever name designated and whether elective or appointive, and to each one of those employed by them or any of them.

(5) No state, state district, county or county district officer, or any employee who directly or indirectly has the control, or who asserts that he or she has such power, over the expenditure of any public funds in this state shall state, suggest or intimate, publicly or privately, or in any manner or form, that any such expenditure shall depend upon or be influenced by the vote of any person, group of persons, or community or group of communities, whether for or against any candidate or group of candidates at any election.

(6) This section and every part of it shall apply also to all federal officers, agents, employees, boards and commissions as to any interference contrary to the provisions of this chapter, in the elections of this state.

(7) Any violation of this section shall be a violation of Section 97-13-37 and shall be referred to a district attorney for prosecution.

[ii] Smith v Dorsey, 599 Sd. 529, 535 (Miss. 1992); MS AG Op., Horne (February 25, 2000).

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