Nine criminal suffrage bills pending in Senate

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Senate Judiciary B Chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said he would decide early this week whether to pass nine House bills restoring voting rights to those convicted of crimes .

Fillingane said it is likely that at least some of the suffrage bills will be reviewed by his Judiciary Committee B with the intention of sending them to the full Senate chamber for consideration.

“We are looking at them now,” Fillingane said.

The state’s 1890s Jim Crow-era Constitution disenfranchises those convicted of certain crimes. The right to vote may be restored by legislation approved by a two-thirds vote of both houses of the legislature and the signature of the governor.

Mississippi is one of less than 10 states that does not automatically restore voting rights to those convicted of crimes at some point after serving their sentence.

Mississippi Votes, a grassroots group that promotes voter access, said in a statement that it’s time to reform the suffrage restoration process.

“Not only is the process unclear, it is also not fair,” the statement said. “Mississipians who may be attempting to restore their right to vote should go to the State Capitol to pick up a paper application, complete it by hand, and then return it to their representative. There is no online application form that can be downloaded or emailed, provided by the state legislature.

“The state legislature also made it impossible to collect information about the process. Individuals should either ask a legislator directly for information, for which there is no uniform answer, or ask a third-party organization to help them better understand how the process works.

Some of the people seeking to restore their right to vote in these bills are being helped by Mississippi Votes.

In the 2021 session, the House passed 21 bills restoring the right to vote. All but two of them were killed in Senate Judiciary Committee B. At the time, Fillingane said Judiciary Committee B had guidelines prohibiting the restoration of suffrage to those convicted of violent crimes and those convicted of embezzlement of public funds.

Judiciary House B Speaker Nick Bain, R-Corinth, who passed the suffrage bills out of committee, said last year it was essentially the same criteria he used.

Bain said he doesn’t believe any other bills restoring the franchise will be considered in the House during this session, which is scheduled to end on Sunday.

The voting ban is part of the 1890 Mississippi Constitution — added as one of several attempts to prevent black Mississippians from voting. The writers at the time admitted they were incorporating crimes into the Constitution to deny the right to vote that they thought black Mississippians were more likely to commit. With African Americans still being disproportionately condemned for crimes, this continues to be the effect of the language of disenfranchisement.

A 2018 analysis by Mississippi Today found that 61% of Mississippians who lost their right to vote are African American, despite the fact that African Americans make up 36% of the total voting-age population of the state. State.

The Constitution contains a list of crimes for which a person convicted of a crime loses the right to vote. Suffrage crimes include: arson, armed robbery, bigamy, bribery, embezzlement, extortion, bad check, shoplifting, forgery, shoplifting, murder, obtaining money or property under false pretences, perjury, rape, receiving stolen goods, robbery, theft, wood theft, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, statutory rape, carjacking and theft under lease or rental agreement.

There are other crimes, such as crimes related to the sale of drugs, where a person convicted of a crime does not lose the right to vote and does have the right to vote while incarcerated.

Bain proposed legislation this session to clarify that people whose felony convictions have been overturned through the court process should also regain the right to vote. He said that in some jurisdictions the right to vote is restored with disbarment, but in others it is not.

It appeared that the legislation clarifying the expungement process had died in the Senate, but Bain was able to revive the bill later in the process. It is now part of a bill that would provide pay increases for district attorneys and judges.

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