/Felony voting ban lawsuit could now affect 30,000 disenfranchised Mississippians

Felony voting ban lawsuit could now affect 30,000 disenfranchised Mississippians

In a lawsuit filed by five men alleging that the state had stripped them of their voting rights, Chief U.S. district Judge Daniel P. Jordan III granted certification of class this week. The suit was brought by five men alleging that the state violated the U.S. Constitution. These laws, which were established by the 1890 state constitution, govern how those convicted of certain offenses can have their right to vote taken away or restored. The rulings of the judge could affect more than the five plaintiffs. They could also impact anyone convicted of a disqualifying offense and has served the sentence of incarceration or supervised release, parole, and/or probation. Jon Youngwood, a lawyer at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP in New York, said that it is important that all Mississippians disenfranchised feel that they are being represented in this case. He was representing the Southern Poverty Law Center as well as the plaintiffs. The class could include as many as 30,000 Mississippians who may lose their voting rights if a judge decides on the suit. Jordan is also facing a lawsuit from the Mississippi Center for Justice claiming that Mississippi’s felony disenfranchisement laws discriminate towards African Americans. Both cases are being brought by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann. His office is responsible for elections. The state bans individuals convicted of certain disqualifying offenses from voting for the rest their lives. These crimes were established in the state constitution, 1890 post-Reconstruction. In 1968, rape and murder were added. As of 2012, 22 criminal offenses are currently disenfranchised by the attorney general’s Office. These include theft, arson and perjury as well as timber larceny and embezzlement. The list does not include many crimes such as drug felonies. According to one estimate, Mississippi is now the first state in the country for disenfranchised resident rates. The lifetime voting ban is a violation of the Eighth Amendment which prohibits cruel and unusual punishments, and the Fourteenth Amendment which allows states to temporarily “abridge”, someone’s voting rights after a crime. Plaintiffs claim that the way in which suffrage was restored is contrary to the Equal Protection clauses of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. A person convicted of disenfranchising felonies cannot get their voting rights back by sponsoring a suffrage measure, which must then be approved by both the House of the Senate or the governor’s pardon. According to court filings Hosemann’s office claimed that only those who had completed their sentence, including payment of fines or other restitution, should be included in the class. The judge has now expanded the definition of the class to include anyone who hasn’t made restitution or fines. Many are finding that the old fees and fines they had added to their sentences still prevent them from voting in Florida. This was after voters approved a ballot initiative to restore voting rights for 1.4 million people who have served felony sentences. Youngwood stated that once you have lost your right to vote, it is impossible to get it back. You can’t win that election again. “You can’t repeat that election.”