/Felon voting ban draws another federal lawsuit

Felon voting ban draws another federal lawsuit

Five men have challenged the constitutionality Mississippi’s disenfranchisement laws. These laws govern how disqualified persons can regain their voting rights. A conviction for any of the following crimes would result in a person being disqualified from voting: bribery (theft, arson), obtaining money or goods under false pretenses and perjury, forgery, embezzlement, and theft. In 1968, murder and rape were both added to the Mississippi Constitution. However, many other felonies including drug crimes are not considered disqualifying. A gubernatorial pardon, or an act of the Legislature, can allow a person convicted for a disqualifying offense to regain their voting rights. The Mississippi Southern Poverty Law Center’s attorneys and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, a New York City-based law firm, claim that Mississippi imposes a lifetime ban on voting. This violates several U.S. Constitution provisions. At a news conference, Jody Owens, managing attorney of the Mississippi SPLC said, “Our clients were citizens who made mistakes, paid their debts to society long ago and now live and and work alongside us. They pay taxes, worship with and fight in our wars. Send their children to school at our school. And they have no say [in our representation in Mississippi or in Washington].” The suit names Delbert Hosemann as the defendant. His agency oversees elections in Mississippi. His office declined to comment due to the pending litigation. The lawsuit was filed outside the Secretary of State building that was named after Heber Ladner. Heber Ladner was Mississippi’s longest-serving elections chief and was often named in voting rights litigations. Ladner administered the oath to Clark, the first African American elected member of the Legislature since Reconstruction. This legal action Tuesday comes after a similar federal challenge was filed in September 2017. It argues that Mississippi’s voter-disenfranchisement law was intended to trap African Americans who, according to the state constitution, are more likely to commit certain types of crimes. Recent Mississippi Today analysis, which looked at records of convictions from the Administrative Office of Courts spanning 1994 to last November, shows that 56.255 Mississippians lost their right to vote due to felony charges. Sixty-one percent of those totals are African-Americans, which only 36 percent represent the state’s voting-age population. According to Mississippi Today’s data analysis, the most disqualifying crimes that can lead to disenfranchisement include property crimes and not violent offenses. Only 6 percent of all disqualifying offenses are murder and rape. In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, the plaintiffs claim that disenfranchisement amounts to a violation in principle of First Amendment protections for political speech. Jon O’Neal was one of the plaintiffs. He claimed that he was involved in conservative politics in Jones County prior to his 2015 conviction for second-degree arson. “Politics was an important part of my life, and it’s gone.” O’Neal, 37 years old, said in the complaint that he was “very political” and “now I’m nothing.” Dennis Hopkins was convicted in 1998 of grand larceny. He has since become involved in his community and taught youth sports. Hopkins stated at a news conference that “You just go to one side and pay your money. It’s called bullying and it’s a serious problem nowadays.” We are tired of being put on the sidelines. We’re tired of being left alone. We’re ready for the fight and will stand up for what is right. Mississippi is a wonderful state, and I love Mississippi. I love my country. I would like to be eligible to vote. I want to feel that I matter. After passing the House, a bill to create a study commission to review Mississippi’s voter disenfranchisement laws was rejected by the Senate.