Federal appeals court hears arguments in Mississippi’s felony voting ban case

Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 9:13 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A federal appeals court is considering a lawsuit that seeks to overturn the lifetime voting ban for Mississippians with certain felony convictions.

“When I got out, I said okay, ‘Hey, I gotta go run and get registered to vote,’” explained Dennis Hopkins. “And that’s when it was like a slap in the face.”

Dennis Hopkins couldn’t register, much less vote. His 1998 grand larceny conviction is among the 22 felonies that bans people from voting in Mississippi. Since release, he’s become a foster parent, city employee and youth mentor.

“I paid my debt to society,” described Hopkins. “My question is, ‘Did you sentence me to four years in prison or did you sentence me to life sentence?’ That’s what I’m wanting to know.”

Hopkins joined a Southern Poverty Law Center lawsuit in 2017. It made it to the 5th circuit court of appeals in 2019. But as he hears of the latest hearing, he’s yet to get a ruling in his own case seeking to overturn the ban.

Meanwhile, former inmate Pauline Rogers didn’t lose her rights. The list of crime has expanded since her release. But she works with those who have lost the right.

“I deal with it every day... people that come out who serve time,” said Rogers, co-founder of the RECH Foundation.

And she says she’ll keep fighting for them.

“That second chance is never full,” described Rogers. “Until we start restoring the rights of voting, then we don’t have equal chances. When you restore the voting right, then we will feel some degree of being equalized. Because voting is a right as a matter of justice and equal justice.”

There are two ways someone can get their voting rights restored: A pardon from the Governor or a suffrage bill that goes through the legislature. Mississippi Votes has digitized the application.

“Even in that process... making it past the House, past the Senate... is a devil in itself,” said Mississippi Votes Executive Director Arekia Bennett. “Cause we don’t know the criteria. Every year the criteria, the standards, change.”

But they say the success rate is low. So, they’re hopeful the appeals court will do away with the ban altogether.

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