JACKSON, Miss. – Mississippians impacted by the state’s unjust and outdated lifetime voting ban met at the Capitol with lawmakers today to urge the state legislature to swiftly take up and pass SB 2508, a bill that would restore voting rights for the formerly incarcerated that have paid their debt to society and deserve a second chance to become productive citizens.
The state’s lifetime voting ban strips Mississippians of their right to vote for life if convicted of disqualifying offenses such as writing a bad check or petty larceny. Once lost, Mississippians only have two ways to regain their right to vote: at the behest of the Governor or through a suffrage bill passed by the State Legislature. Only 14 people since 2013 have had their rights restored by lawmakers.
“The process for Mississippians to regain their vote is so infrequent as to effectively be impossible for everyday people,” said Sen. Derrick Simmons (D-Greenville). “SB 2508 provides a clear pathway to end the lifetime voting ban for everyone who has repaid their debt to society and are rehabilitated in the eyes of the law.”
“Of the tens of thousands of Mississippians who have lost their right to vote forever under the ban, most have completed their sentences—and the majority of those banned sentence-completers are African-American,” said Rep. David Baria (D-Bay St. Louis). “This was a goal of Mississippi’s 1890 Constitution and Jim Crow laws, to exclude African Americans from full participation in our state’s politics, and it is time to update our voting laws to allow those that have paid their debt to society to have a voice in their communities’ decisions and more successfully reenter society.”
The issue of re-enfranchisement for people with prior felony convictions receives strong bipartisan support from Mississippians, with 68 percent of voters supporting and 28 percent opposed, according to an attached December 2018 poll conducted by Tulchin Research. That deep support is consistent among both parties and across racial and gender lines.
“Righting this injustice is a bipartisan priority for Mississippians,” said Jody Owens, Chief Policy Counsel for the SPLC Action Fund. “Republicans and Democrats should come together to allow taxpaying citizens returning to their community to participate completely in our democracy.”
There is an ongoing lawsuit challenging the lifetime ban, but Mississippi lawmakers could pass SB 2508 this session to ensure that those who have paid their debt to society get a second chance at the ballot box. Dennis Hopkins, a Holly Springs resident and one of six plaintiffs in the lawsuit, spoke at the Capitol about the impact of being denied the right to vote on his life for the more than twenty years since his felony conviction.
“In school, they teach our kids that everybody’s vote counts, but no matter how I’ve lived for the past 20 years, I don’t count, not my values or my experience” Hopkins said. “I have paid Mississippi what I owe it in full, but I still can’t cast my vote for my children’s future.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center released on its social media platforms today video of Hopkins talking about what voting would mean for him and his family.