Advocates still fighting for voting rights restorations, despite lack of action this legislative session

Published: Apr. 12, 2023 at 9:09 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Mississippi is one of only eleven states with laws on the books that can keep some people from voting again, even if they’ve served the time following their crime.

And, it’s the only state that requires people convicted of certain felonies to petition the Legislature to restore their voting rights. Advocates are hoping that will soon change.

There are two options to get voting rights restored if you’ve previously been convicted of one of Mississippi’s disenfranchising crimes.

A pardon from the Governor or a suffrage bill handled by the legislature.

“This system and this narrow path is designed to hinder people from doing it,” explained Blake Feldman, Mississippi Center for Justice Impact Policy Counsel. “It’s designed for people to be feel hopeless, and feel resigned to the fact that they just will not be able to vote in Mississippi and they aren’t a full citizen of this state. And that’s a shame.”

Blake Feldman searched through the online legislative records available, dating back to 1997, to see how often those have been successful.

“This is only the fourth session out of those 27 that no suffrage restoration bill has passed.”

Even in those other years, there were only a handful of suffrage bills passed. Mississippi Votes is one of the organizations that’s tried to simplify the process for those seeking to get their rights restored, making a digital version of the form available on their site. They believe the process is an overly complicated one that should go away.

“We’re kind of fighting like a multiple front war at this point, because so many other mechanisms and moving pieces are now affecting this one thing that in 2019, we thought, you know, we’ll, we’ll you know, put some selfish applications in, but on the back end, we’re going to work towards doing this thing, having a referendum,” described Mississippi Votes Policy Director Hannah Williams. “And then in 2020, all that goes away.”

Last year, the Mississippi Center for Justice asked the U.S. Supreme Court to look at the current process.

“Permanent felony disenfranchisement in Mississippi comes from very blatantly racist intent of 1890 Constitution,” added Feldman.

They expect to know whether the justices will take up the case by June.

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