Governor Tate Reeves vetoes MS bill to restore voting rights

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Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves announces his appointments to the Governor’s Gulf Coast Advisory Committee at Diamondhead City Hall in Diamondhead through Thursday, August 12, 2021.

hruhoff@sunherald.com

Governor Tate Reeves has expressed his opposition to the teaching of critical race theory and his support for the “patriotic” history of the nation and state.

Critical Race Theory, normally taught at the college level, explores the impact of race on various aspects of society. Opponents, however, say critical race theory is an effort to divide the country along racial lines. While opposing critical race theory, Republican Reeves has long advocated for the teaching of “patriotic” history, or history that portrays the state and nation in a positive light.

Reeves, a self-described “numbers guy” who worked in banking and finance before entering politics in his late 20s, recently offered a history lesson by vetoing a bill that would guarantee that people whose felony convictions were overturned would regain their right to vote.

“Disenfranchisement is a driving principle of the social contract at the heart of every great republic dating back to the founding of ancient Greece and Rome,” Reeves wrote in his veto message. “In America, such laws date back to the colonies and the eventual founding of our Republic. Since the inception of the state, in one form or another, Mississippi law has recognized felony disenfranchisement.

Certainly, disenfranchisement for those convicted of crimes was once common in America. But most states — at least 40 of them — now restore the franchise to those convicted of crimes at some point after serving their sentence.

And perhaps those convicted of crimes in ancient Rome and Greece also lost their right to vote. Perhaps, a question for the governor is whether slaves in ancient Rome and Greece could vote.

In Mississippi, the issue of felony disenfranchisement intersects with the state’s sordid history of slavery and systematic racism. The day’s narrative made it clear that felony disenfranchisement was part of a litany of provisions placed in Mississippi’s 1890 Constitution to prevent African Americans from voting.

At the time, the Mississippi Supreme Court said disenfranchisement of felons was an effort “to interfere with the exercise of the right to vote by the black race” by targeting “offences to which its weakest members were subjects”. The intent of the provision was the same as the poll tax, literacy test, and other Jim Crow-era provisions that were intended to prevent African Americans from voting.

Heck, murder and rape – the two crimes that would disenfranchise if there were any – were not listed in the 1890 Constitution as disenfranchising. They were added much later, in the 1960s.

While most states have dropped lifetime bans on voting for those convicted of crimes, Mississippi strictly adheres to the process set out in its 1890 Constitution. Under this process, a person must either obtain a pardon from the governor, or approval by a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislative Assembly to regain the right to vote.

Because of this difficult process, Mississippi leads the nation in the percentage of residents who lost their right to vote. During the last session, the legislature passed bills restoring voting rights to just five Mississippians. Reeves chose not to sign these bills, instead allowing them to become law without his signature.

The bill Reeves vetoed would have specified that people whose felony convictions are overturned by a judge would also regain the right to vote. It should be emphasized that only a limited number of crimes under specified conditions are eligible for expungement.

Regardless, some jurisdictions restore the right to vote when the crimes are expunged. Others are not. The bill was an attempt to clarify what many said was the intent of the legislature – to restore the franchise when crimes were expunged.

But Reeves said that to restore rights, the state Constitution must be changed by first legislative action and then by a vote of the people.

There are legal experts who agree with Reeves’ assessment that a constitutional amendment is needed to circumvent the Legislative Assembly or a governor’s pardon to restore the franchise. Others do not believe that a constitutional amendment is necessary to do so.

Still, Reeves took the opportunity of the veto to brandish his side of the story, which was absent of the racial components surrounding Mississippi’s disenfranchisement rules.

When the Legislature debated a bill that supporters say would ban the teaching of critical race theory in Mississippi classrooms, some expressed concern that the adoption of the anti-criticism race theory bill would prevent teaching of the impact of race on the history of the state and nation.

Supporters of the anti-criticism Race Theory Bill have said their intention was not to minimize the impact of race.

But Reeves, who signed the Critical Race Theory Bill and touts the importance of teaching ‘patriotic’ history, seems determined to ignore the racial component of the state’s deprivation provision. of the right to vote.

This analysis was carried out by mississippi today a nonprofit news organization that covers state government, public policy, politics, and culture. Bobby Harrison is the senior reporter for Mississippi Today’s Capitol.

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