Special Assignment: Voting controversy, Part 1

Published: Feb. 25, 2019 at 4:32 PM CST
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Mississippi voting laws are sparking controversy about who's allowed to cast a ballot.

Our law gives felons convicted of certain crimes the right to vote but bans others from the polls ever again.

"There are 22 disenfranchising crimes," Lauderdale County Circuit Clerk Donna Jill Johnson says.

If you're convicted of one of these 22 crimes, you're not allowed to vote. The crimes range from felony bad check writing to murder. Most felony crimes are on the disenfranchisement list, but not all of them. You can find a full list of those 22 crimes at the bottom of this story.

"When a drug dealer goes to Parchman, if he's there for 10 years, he can vote while he's there,” Rep. Greg Snowden says. “I just think that's wrong."

Depending on the crime, some convicted felons not only keep their right to vote, they can do so while imprisoned.

"People that are currently incarcerated, whether it is in a federal penitentiary, a local penitentiary or our local jails, if they are not one of the 22 disenfranchising crimes, then they have a process,” Johnson says. “They make a written request to the circuit clerk's office. They have to have it notarized just like a regular voter. It's an absentee process, and they're legal."

But perhaps the most controversial part of this law is what happens after a convicted felon serves out his or her sentence. In Mississippi, your disenfranchisement is for life.

"Mississippi's behind the times because 48 states, including D.C. and Puerto Rico, 48 allow people to vote after they've completed their sentence,” says Paloma Wu, attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “This is one of the reasons why we've filed a lawsuit, and one of our claims is that it's cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment."

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit to challenge the state's disenfranchisement practice. A judge recently granted class certification to that suit.

"If you complete your sentence, if you serve your time, you ought to get your right to vote back. That's something that Mississippians believe in,” Wu says. “Basic fairness, idea of second chances, idea of redemption. These are universal. These are Mississippi's values."

It’s something lawmakers from both parties are starting to support.

"You finished your time in prison and the court says you can be released. It may be 40 years after when you went in and you're back in society, you should have the right to vote restored,” Rep. Snowden says. “That's my personal conviction, and I believe that's the just thing."

Tuesday, we'll take a look at the possible changes involving Mississippi’s voting practices.

Mississippi’s Disenfranchising Crimes:

1. Arson

2. Armed robbery

3. Bigamy

4. Bribery

5. Embezzlement

6. Extortion

7. Felony bad check

8. Felony shoplifting

9. Forgery

10. Larceny

11. Murder

12. Obtaining money or goods under false pretenses

13. Perjury

14. Rape

15. Receiving stolen property

16. Robbery

17. Theft

18. Timber larceny

19. Unlawful taking of motor vehicle

20. Statutory rape

21. Carjacking

22. Larceny under lease or rental agreement.