/Jails plan for inmates locked up but not locked out of voting

Jails plan for inmates locked up but not locked out of voting

Officials from the state law enforcement agency don’t know how many people are in prison on criminal charges and are therefore unable to determine their eligibility to vote Nov. 8. If they ask, however, more than one person can vote. Most Mississippi citizens over 18 years old can register to vote in local, state, and federal elections. Persons convicted of any 22 crimes are automatically disqualified from the vote or right to vote. These disenfranchising offenses include arson, bigamy and bribery. Legally, this means that any person who isn’t convicted of the above offenses and is registered can vote even if they are behind bars. Random surveys of county sheriffs in the state show that most have procedures in place to assist voters who request a ballot. Mississippi Today questioned several corrections officers about the issue and received mixed responses. New Sheriff Troy Peterson in Harrison County says that eligible voters aren’t concerned about voting. They’re just thinking about getting out. But, for those who do want to vote, he stated that absentee ballots can be obtained by local election commissioners. This process has been successful for 23 years. Hinds County Sheriff Victor Mason was asked about his in-jail voting process. He said that he doesn’t know how to do it. Sheriffs prepare jails for Election Day. This is unlike other voting blocs. It does not appear that prisoner have taken up their cause. Mississippi Today was informed by the Secretary of State that they had not received any complaints from prisoners-rights advocates. K.C. President of the Mississippi Sheriffs Association, Hamp of Tunica County said that he plans to allow people convicted of crimes not listed in the state Constitution, or just those being held on charges, to vote at the Tunica County Jail. Hamp stated that his staff will collaborate with the circuit clerk’s to ensure proper voting. Hamp stated that although they may be in prison, they still have the right of vote. Sheriff Billy Magee in Forrest County said that individual candidates can campaign at the jail. If prisoners request a ballot, he will bring in a notary who will witness absentee voting. A voter must request an absence ballot from the local circuit court. The clerk then mails it to him. Voters cannot bring blank ballots in bulk to be filled out. Alex Coker, deputy, said that DeSoto County takes eligible detainees to the local voting locations on election day and then returns them back to jail. Carroll County Sheriff Clint Walker has instructions posted in several jail pods about how prisoners can write to the circuit clerk for an absence ballot. To make it easy, he provides paper, stamps, and envelopes. Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said that any eligible prisoner can request an absentee vote. His office also offers a notary public and writing supplies. Sheriff Ben Caldwell said the same applies to Alcorn County. Mississippi Today reached out to numerous other sheriffs, but none responded immediately. Roger Graves is the Pike County circuit court clerk. He said that his office helps eligible prisoners who are brought by the sheriff’s department to the courthouse in order to cast an absentee ballot. Since ancient Rome and Greece, the idea of removing a criminal’s vote rights has existed. This was known as “civil death”, and it involved forfeiture of property, loss in right to appear before a court, prohibition from entering into contracts, and the loss of voting rights. The English colonists brought civil death to America, but it was eventually abolished in most cases. Grace S. Fisher, spokesperson for the Mississippi Department of Corrections, says that eligible state prisoners can also vote absentee. She noted that they can work with their case managers in order to obtain the ballots. Mississippians have the legal right to regain their voting rights. An individual must finish his sentence and go to the senator or state representative to get a bill authoring a bill to restore his or her right to vote. The bill must be passed by both houses of the Legislature. The governor may also grant re-enfranchisement. Gov. Phil Bryant’s office has not responded to multiple questions from Mississippi Today asking if he had restored the right to vote to anyone since assuming office in 2012. At least three bills were filed during the 2016 Mississippi legislative session. Two for named individuals, and one to restore voting rights to disqualified felons. The third was to create a system that automatically restores the vote to felons who have completed their sentences, probation, and/or paid restitution. All three bills were defeated. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, most ex-felons are automatically allowed to vote in 38 states and District of Columbia after they have completed their sentences. Eleven states have a permanent ban on felons voting. There is no pardon or government action. The Sentencing Project is a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy and criminal-justice research organization. It reports that approximately 6 million Americans with felony convictions won’t be allowed to vote in November. Some states are facing legal action regarding their prisoner voting laws. The state of Alabama was sued by federal courts to repeal a state law that barred anyone “convicted of a crime involving morality turpitude” from voting. This law had made it impossible for more than 250,000 people to vote in Alabama. Plaintiffs claim that the term “moral Turpitude” is not legally defined and that the law is racially discriminatory and indefensibly vague. Jody Owens II (the state’s managing lawyer) said that Mississippi’s disenfranchisement laws are different. However, the Southern Poverty Law Center continues its examination of their impact. Alcorn County Sheriff Ben Caldwell was elected in 2015. He said that he is working with his staff to create a fair process for his detainees, who are eligible to vote on Nov. 8.