Voting

Rep. Bennie Thompson leads public Jan. 6 hearings

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Rep. Bennie Thompson, leading the public Jan. 6 hearings, has long worked to protect democracy

Reuben Anderson, Mississippi’s first African American Supreme Court justice of the modern era, had the responsibility of introducing former President Bill Clinton at the recent memorial ceremony for his longtime friends, Gov. and First Lady William and Elise Winter.

Before making that introduction, Anderson said he wanted to recognize “my congressman.” He described 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson as “the most unusual politician you will ever meet. He is not interested in getting rich. He is not interested in a higher office, and he shuns publicity.”

Reasonable people can differ on whether Anderson was being overly generous of “a fella I have known for over 50 years,” but what is not debatable is that Thompson will not be able to shun publicity this week.

Thompson, the Bolton native who has held the 2nd Congressional District post since 1993, will be at the center of attention as the special committee he chairs holds prime-time hearings beginning Thursday on the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by those trying to prevent the certification of the 2020 presidential election. A big part of the committee’s work centers around the role of former President Donald Trump and his allies in the attack.

READ MORE: Rep. Bennie Thompson tapped to lead committee investigating Jan. 6 riot

Thursday’s hearing begins at 7 p.m. It and a separate hearing next week will be carried live by most major networks and cable news channels — with the notable exception of Fox News.

“I want, as an African American, to be able to say to the world that I helped stabilize our government when insurrectionists tried to take over,” Thompson recently told CNN of the hearings.

Thompson — the dean of the Mississippi congressional delegation and indeed someone who has worked to avoid the limelight — has built his long political career on protecting democracy.

As a young adult in the 1960s, he worked to register African Americans to vote and to ensure votes were counted. Now leading the Jan. 6 Commission, he is effectively doing similar work: ensuring that legally cast votes are counted and that the nation’s representative democracy is protected from any future efforts to overturn the results of an election.

During a 2018 Mississippi Today interview, Thompson recalled in the 1960s as a Tougaloo College political science student working in the Mississippi Delta trying to register people to vote on behalf of civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer’s congressional bid.

“I was talking to my mother, and she was saying you know we don’t vote here in Bolton,” Thompson recalled. “It was a shock to me that I was up in Sunflower County helping register Black people to vote, and even in my hometown they didn’t enjoy the same luxury.”

Thompson’s auto mechanic father, who died in 1964 — the same year of passage of the federal Rights Act designed to ensure racial minorities were not denied the right to vote — never got to vote. His mother, a schoolteacher, did, and most likely her first vote cast was for her son when he ran and was elected to the board of aldermen in his hometown of Bolton in 1969.

While Thompson won that election, it took a ruling of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to ensure victory for him and for two other African Americans elected that year in Bolton.

Thursday’s Jan. 6 Commission hearings could be viewed as a continuation of Bennie Thompson’s life’s work in terms of trying to ensure fair elections.

“I’m a passionate believer that in a democracy you have to follow the rule of law,” Thompson recently told NPR. “It has nothing to do with individuals. It has nothing to do with wealth. It has nothing to do with status in the community. It’s the law. The law is colorblind.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Black vote diluted in Supreme Court districts, lawsuit claims

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Black voter strength diluted in Mississippi Supreme Court districts, federal lawsuit claims

Multiple groups have filed a federal claiming Mississippi’s three Supreme Court districts, which have not been redrawn in more than 35 years, dilute Black voter strength.

The lawsuit was filed in the Northern District of Mississippi on behalf of Black citizens of the state who claim the districts should have been redrawn since the 1980s by the Legislature to adhere to population changes found by the U.S Census.

“Mississippi’s Supreme Court districts dilute the voice and the votes of Black Mississippians in violation of federal law,” said Ari Savitzky, senior attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union Rights Project.

The state, which has an African American population of about 38%, has nine Supreme Court justices – one of which is Black.

Justice Leslie King is the fourth Black Mississippian to represent the Central District on the state’s high court. All four Black judges initially were appointed to a post on the court by governors and later won election to the court.

When asked why it had been so long since the Legislature had redrawn the districts, House Speaker Philip Gunn had no comment other than to say he was not familiar with the lawsuit.

In 2020, Latrice Westbrooks, a member of the Court of Appeals, sought to become the second African American serving simultaneously on the Supreme Court for the first time in the state’s history and sought to be the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. She lost by about 12,000 votes to Kenneth Griffis who garnered about 51% of the vote.

The three transportation commissioners and three public service commissioners also are elected from the three Supreme Court districts. Willie Simmons of Cleveland, who is African American, currently serves as the Central District transportation commissioner.

He is the first African American elected to serve as a public service commissioner or transportation commissioner.

The lawsuit says the Central District “could easily be redrawn, consistent with traditional principles, to have a majority of eligible Black voters. Especially in light of the high degree of racial polarization in voting in Mississippi, such a change is needed to ensure that Supreme Court elections comply with federal law and allow Black Mississippians a fair and equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choosing.”

The lawsuit says the districts violate federal voting rights law. Because of federal law, states must redraw state legislative and U.S. congressional districts every 10 years to adhere to population shifts found by the decennial U.S. Census. States have more leeway in adhering “to one-man, one-vote” or equal representation principles in judicial districts, but still there are federal and judicial guidelines that must be met in drawing the judicial districts.

“Equal opportunities to ascend to high leadership roles like state Supreme Court justice will draw in more potential leaders committed to building their lives and careers in Mississippi,” said businessman Dyamone White, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.  “As a business owner who plans to build a family here in Mississippi, I am committed to building up our state. That means creating Supreme Court district maps that give Black Mississippians fair representation and equal opportunity.”

Other plaintiffs are Ty Pinkins, a 20-year Army veteran and Georgetown law graduate; educator Constance Slaughter Harvey-Burwell; and state Senate Minority Leader Derrick Simmons of Greenville.

The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU, ACLU of Mississippi, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the law firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.

The next Supreme Court elections are slated for 2024 when three members of the court will be up for re-election. The PSC and transportation commissioners will be on the ballot in 2023.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Mississippi Supreme Court plan violates Voting Rights Act

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rssfeeds.clarionledger.com – Mississippi Clarion Ledger – 2022-04-25 10:00:08

The districts to elect judges to the Mississippi Supreme Court are drawn in a way that denies Black voters an equal chance to participate in the political process, according to a challenging the voting maps. 

The lawsuit filed by Mississippi Votes and individual Mississippi residents calls on the state to draw new boundaries for three districts, which has not been done since…

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Amid False 2020 Claims, GOP States Eye Voting System Upgrade | Jackson Free Press

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jacksonfreepress.com – Jonathan Mattise and Christina A. Cassidy, Associated Press – 2022-04-15 15:36:07

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — For years, Tennessee Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro’s call to require the state’s infrastructure to include a paper record of each ballot cast has been batted down in the Republican-dominated Legislature.

But as false claims still swirl around the 2020 presidential election — and some GOP voters remain distrustful of voting machines…

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Von Gordon talks critical race theory

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‘Don’t be intimidated by the jargon’: Von Gordon talks critical race theory in Mississippi

Von Gordon

For much of the last two decades, Von Gordon has encouraged Mississippians to talk about race. As a student at the University of Mississippi, he helped organize the first Statewide Student Summit on Race. Gordon, 42, is now the executive director of the Alluvial Collective, formerly the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. The nonprofit aims to create stronger communities in Mississippi through educational events, like hosting seminars, assisting in oral histories, and mentoring high school students. 

This session, discussion of race and racism in Mississippi in K-12 school and university classrooms are coming under threat. Last week, the House passed Senate Bill 2113, which seeks to ban the teaching of in . Now, Gov. Tate Reeves is poised to sign the legislation, and educators across the state are anxiously waiting to see how it will impact their ability to teach about race and racism in Mississippi. 

The day after the House passed SB 2113 last week, Mississippi Today spoke with Gordon for “Mississippi in the Know,” a series of free breakfast conversations with policy experts. In this interview, which has been edited and condensed for length, Gordon talked about school desegregation in Mississippi and how that inspired Derrick Bell’s writings on critical race theory. 

Molly Minta: Derrick Bell is one of the founders of critical race theory, and he worked as a lawyer for the NAACP legal defense (fund), and he actually litigated a school desegregation case in Leake County. His experiences working on that case were really formative for the academic work he later did to develop critical race theory. I would love it if you could talk to us a little bit about his experiences. 

Von Gordon: There’s a definition that I’m really fond of. Lee Anne Bell describes it in a book about teaching for social justice, and she writes: “Critical race theory analyzes and challenges mainstream narratives in law, history, and popular culture that uphold the status quo.” And a big part of how they do that is through counter storytelling. 

I think it’s really important that Dr. Bell spent a lot of time here, and it was informative in how he thought about this theory. So he is already in Mississippi doing some work in the early 1960s. There’s an opportunity to help with the desegregation of Leake County schools

One of the interesting things is, there was a Rosenwald School already there that was of deep value to the community. It had served the community well, even in the context of gross underfunding and, frankly, gross segregation. So there was a need that the Black people in particular in that community had to have an equitable education experience. The Legislature could have fixed that, but it did not. 

There were people (in Leake County) who were concerned that by desegregating the schools, they might lose this really valuable asset that they had poured themselves into and that had produced a lot of opportunity for their children  — and actually (a lot of opportunity) for them. 

Now, one of the things I’ve learned about these communities — Harmony is one of them — is that they are really strong and resilient communities. We know in other parts of the country, strong communities like that got destroyed, whether you’re talking about Tulsa or Rosewood or others. The context really matters in that way. (Bell) recognizes that the law is really critical to desegregation, to unleashing the potential of being a citizen in the United States. 

When we think about what critical race theory seeks to do, it seeks to have a full examination of the impact of race in our society. And I think it’s been fun, and in some ways funny, to watch this conversation happen nationally, in part because in many ways it is detached both from the real impact of systemic racism, but also what it looks like in the communities where we live and work.

MM: Another tenant of critical race theory (is) this idea of “interests converging.” Could you talk to us a little bit about that, how we can understand that idea in Mississippi?

VG: Dr. Bell is one of the scholars who has written most about this. He talks specifically about some of the civil rights gains and how they were really made possible, not because there was this great awakening in the country that Black people or Native people needed their rights or they deserve their rights. That was a part of it, but it was also that it benefited white America too. 

For folks who are curious about the civil rights struggle of the sixties — when the president got involved most actively (in Birmingham), it was when the State Department and diplomats started to send back how what they were seeing on TV played across the globe. As the Cold War is emerging, we cannot project out equality and the dignity and respect of every human being, and here we have German shepherds biting our community’s babies. 

The passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Rights Act — based on Dr. Bell’s work — had as much to do with what benefited the whole as it did just the need to extend these rights, basically to live out our Constitution. I think that’s an important thing for us to consider. 

I’ve always been fascinated by debates about affirmative action. When I was in college and since, one of the things that I’ve always heard about affirmative action policies was that the biggest beneficiary of those policies were white women. And most of the data bears that out. But the burden of affirmative action and the stigma around it is typically born by Black people. 

I think we have to ask ourselves … Are we doing things for the right reason? Or doing things in the interest of equity and justice? Or are we doing them also because it’s in our self interest? 

There’s a windfall of infrastructure dollars, right, coming into the state. One of the things we know about infrastructure is, historically, where what got placed had an impact on the people living there. Most of the negative impact, particularly in our urban centers, are … born out by the black and brown people in those countries.

So are we thinking intentionally at our Department of Transportation about how this amount of infrastructure dollars are going to be spent? How are we thinking about equity, or are we only looking for where our interests converge?  

MM: When I was interviewing students in Mississippi’s only law school class on critical race theory, they were talking to me about how, on the one hand, the idea of interest convergence can seem a little like Machiavellian almost. It’s not these pure ideas of equality and justice that are leading to these social changes, but the economic or material realities of, how does this change benefit people who have power in society? There’s that more cynical interpretation, but there’s also a way of thinking about it where it can actually provide a roadmap for how to create change in society. 

VG: My friend and colleague now at the Alluvial Collective, Chauncey Spears, often talks about how we prepare ourselves and young people to be better citizens. One of the important things I think we have to do is let go of some fear so we can really do a deep and honest examination of who we are and how we show up in the world, and the institutions we’re part of and the systems that we encourage.

Think about where the fear is coming from, cause we’re seeing this with the whole CRT debate. It’s rooted in the fears around what young people are learning and what that might tell them about who we are — or make them question about who we are. 

I’ve worked with amazing young people for a long time. I’ve been in spaces where we’ve talked about the of Emmett Till, and the white students in the room have shared all of the emotions of guilt and shame and assume blame and a lot of other things, almost all of which are unhealthy when it comes to how we move forward. And I’ve had the experience of, Black kids, particularly Black males, 14 or 15, wondering about their own value. 

Critical race theory is just one of many different ways that we need to examine the impact of oppression in our society. It is one thing to think about where we want to go and how we get there. It’s another thing to do an examination about how we have destroyed human potential for generations. 

Von Gordon

A really good friend of mine said this about white kids learning about slavery and feeling some kind of way – that parents should applaud their white child who comes home and is upset about slavery as white person, because it’s evidence that their child has a moral compass. When we think about the value of a moral compass for budding citizens, that’s a really important thing. And for a black child to learn that they do have value. What happened to Emmett Till is not something anyone deserved for any reason.

The complexities of how our young people are raised to explore our history, but also kind of draw from that (history) lessons for how they need to show up as citizens should really be at the heart of this, not our fears. 

MM: What you’re saying connects to what you talked about at the beginning of our conversation about an important aspect of critical race theory being counter-storytelling. … I’m wondering if you could maybe talk a little bit more about other examples of counter storytelling in Mississippi? 

VG: I’ll tell you, I remember talking to … my middle daughter. She was talking about Lewis and Clark and the expedition. She was so proud of what she learned. Her older sister asked her, ‘so tell me about the other people in that story? What do you know about them?’ 

There were Native people there, right? They’re just the backdrop. Not only is that disrespectful, it’s a really bad way for us to learn our history. If we polled our middle school students and asked them if the original people in Mississippi, if any of them are still in Mississippi? They would probably say no, they died a long, long time ago. But Chief (Cyrus) Ben is a steward of an incredible history and community that most of our young people don’t even know exists. 

In our work, first of all, we don’t go anywhere we’re not invited. When we get there, one of the first things we do is put people in circles, because circles are one of the oldest forms of community. 

We recognize that at the fundamental level, where people are living their lives, they need to have a couple of things happen. They need to be able to see each other fully. They need to be able to hear each other fully. And the one thing everybody in the circle is an expert in, is their stories.

It’s intimidating when you show up in a space, and you know there are people in there with expertise, and you don’t feel you have an expertise. But when you show up and all you have to do is tell your authentic stories, who you are and where you come from and what shaped you? And that’s all everybody else has a license to do? Then you get to know each other in a unique and different way. 

MM: When people are sharing their personal stories, what kind of questions do their community members tend to ask them? 

VG: One of the first things I always hear is shock. Like, ‘oh my god, I didn’t know that about you.’ Or, ‘I had the same experience.’

Let me come back to the desegregation of schools in Mississippi. … When the schools in Mississippi were desegregated, that was an incredibly traumatic experience for everybody. Now, critical race theory will challenge you to examine who got the jobs at the newly integrated schools and who had to go find another line of work. But it was a deeply traumatic experience for everyone. And not many people have had the opportunity to tell those stories or share them with folks who might’ve been on the other side of that trauma. 

READ MORE: ‘Life is different here than it was when I grew up’: The legacy of school segregation in Yalobusha County

The assumption might be if you’re a white kid at Murrah that it was hard on you, cause you went home for Christmas and you come back and bam, bam, bam. Your world is turned upside down. You might think the brown kids who were going to your school benefited. All you can think about is the benefit that they were supposed to get from it — not recognizing that, perhaps for the first time in their lives, they’re looking at a teacher wondering if that teacher has their best interest at heart, wondering if that teacher sees their humanity? 

Imagine the position at that point in time that a Black family who was already living on the margins, imagine how the power they felt — or did not feel — sending their kid into a newly integrated school, where they didn’t feel like anybody in that administration answered to them? 

Like that happened all over our state. Several people have said this to me over the years, particularly in Tupelo. They have this thing they call the Tupelo way. And one of the things they pride themselves in is the approach they took to desegregating their schools. Some real-meaning people brought the community together and said. ‘we’re going to make sure our public schools are our institutions.’ 

There can be a healthy debate about how they actually did that, or whether that’s really, really true. But you look at how those communities sit in Mississippi now, how they are thriving? There’s a direct correlation between the sense of leadership around doing as little harm as possible compared to other communities which embraced a different way of educating their young people. 

MM: I have just one last question … is there an aspect of the whole discourse and dialogue around critical race theory … that I haven’t asked or something you want to point out that you feel like people miss? 

VG: Critical race theory is just one of many different ways that we need to examine the impact of oppression in our society. It is one thing to think about where we want to go and how we get there. It’s another thing to do an examination about how we have destroyed human potential for generations. 

I can’t think of anybody I know who would read a book from beginning to end, from cover to cover, about critical race theory that would not come away with a sense of conviction about being better, about our need as society to be better.

We often say that previous generations did not know. One of the things that Dr. Kendi lays out really well in (Stamped from the Beginning) is, people knew, and we got the history that we have. People knew. We’re going to have to do better ourselves. 

In really personal ways, this exploration of who we are matters, and CRT is one among many, many others that we absolutely need to employ. Don’t be intimidated by the jargon. Don’t be intimidated by what the talking head on TV said about it. Get in there for yourself. That’s my story, I’m sticking to it.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

NAACP proposes Mississippi redistricting plan

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NAACP offers redistricting plan for Legislature’s consideration

by Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today
December 6, 2021

The Mississippi chapter of the NAACP has developed a congressional redistricting plan that it hopes the Legislature will adopt in the upcoming 2022 session.

The recently unveiled plan moves all of and a small portion of southern Madison County into the majority-Black 2nd Congressional District. Those areas currently are in the 3rd District.

The plan makes other minor changes in other parts of the state to ensure equal population representation among the four congressional districts.

“This map meets the criteria for the congressional districts according to Section II of the (U.S) Rights Act of 1965, the United States Constitution and it complies with all state laws,” said Carroll Rhodes of Hazlehurst, attorney for the Mississippi NAACP. The NAACP is the nation’s oldest civil rights organization.

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The NAACP proposed map moves all of Hinds County and parts of Madison County into the 2nd congressional district.

During the 2022 legislative session, which begins in January, the Legislature will attempt to redraw the four congressional seats and the 174 state legislative seats to match population shifts found by the 2020 U.S. Census.

Legislators plan to deal with congressional redistricting early in the session since all four U.S. House seat elections will be held later in 2022. The elections for the state legislative seats are not scheduled until 2023.

READ MORE: Lawmakers face redistricting reality: Mississippi’s non-white population is growing

On Dec. 15, the joint House and Senate redistricting committee will meet with the intent of adopting a congressional plan to present to the full Legislature in the 2022 season.

Corey Wiggins, the executive director of the state chapter of the NAACP, is asking the committee to consider the NAACP proposal.

In a letter, Wiggins told the committee the goal of the NAACP plan is to not “disproportionately affect marginalized communities” in a negative way.

He said the NAACP plan “ensures all Mississippi voters are represented in the voting process, gives special consideration to compactness of congressional districts and meets all federal and state laws.”

The plan, Rhodes said, splits fewer counties, municipalities and precincts than the current map does. The ideal population is 740,320 people in each district. Rhodes said the NAACP plan has two districts that are one person each below the ideal size and one district that is one person above the ideal size. The other district is the exact ideal size based on the 2020 Census data.

The law calls for the districts to be as close “as practicable” to equal in population.

Wiggins said the NAACP is submitting a plan early in hopes of avoiding litigation. The Legislature has been unable to complete congressional redistricting efforts after the previous two censuses and it was left to the federal courts to draw the districts.

Both Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, the Senate chair of the redistricting committee, and Jim Beckett, R-Bruce, the House chair, have said they hope to avoid litigation and have a plan approved by the Legislature.

The biggest chore facing the Legislature in drawing the congressional districts is the loss of more than 65,000 people in the 2nd District. The Legislature will have to address the population loss and at the same time, based on federal laws, maintain a Black majority district.

Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, who represents the 2nd District, has advocated moving all of Hinds from the 3rd District, represented by Republican Michael Guest of Rankin County, to his district to help offset the population loss.

READ MORE: Rep. Bennie Thompson wants all of Hinds Co. placed in his 2nd District

The NAACP plan also proposes moving all of Hinds into Thompson’s district.

Under the NAACP plan, the 2nd District would have a Black voting age population of 62.1% compared to 64.8% under the current map. The 3rd District would have, as it does now, the second highest African American population at a little more than 35%.

To meet equal representation goals, the NAACP plan also would:

  • Move Winston and all of Oktibbeha County to the 3rd District from the 1st.
  • Move all of Marion and Clarke counties and a tiny portion of Jones from the 4th to the 3rd.

Wiggins said the NAACP is working to develop a proposal for the 174 legislative seats.

READ MORE: Mississippi one of just three states to lose population since 2010

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Legislature could address felony voting ban for first time since 2008

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Legislature could try to address felony voting ban for first time since 2008

by Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today
November 28, 2021

The state House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation in 2008 to restore rights to all Mississippians convicted of felonies, except for those convicted of murder or rape.

The 2008 legislation later died in the Senate, where Phil Bryant presided as lieutenant governor. Current House Speaker Philip Gunn, then a sophomore legislator from Clinton, was among the few House members to vote against the 2008 bill.

Since 2008 there has not been any serious efforts by legislators to move Mississippi more toward the nation’s mainstream, where in more than 40 states voting rights for those convicted of felonies are restored automatically at some point after their sentence is completed.

In the upcoming 2022 session, House Judiciary B Chairman Nick Bain, a Republican from Corinth, has vowed to try to make the process of restoring voting rights for Mississippians with felony convictions “more consistent and fairer.”

What that effort looks like remains to be seen. Bain has stressed that at this point he is not trying to completely scrap Mississippi’s archaic felony voting ban.

The surest way to make whatever changes Bain decides to try to make would be to amend the 1890 Constitution to revise the language that disenfranchises people convicted of certain felonies.

“Obviously we can try to amend the Constitution, but that is a high burden,” said Bain, who held a legislative hearing in October on the issue.

Changes to the state Constitution require approval by two-thirds of the members of each chamber of the Legislature and voter approval.

The current language in the Constitution says to restore voting rights, approval is needed from two-thirds of the elected membership of both chambers of the Legislature. Voting rights also have been restored through gubernatorial pardons and by judicial expungements, though the process is burdensome and not allowed for all convicted of felonies.

The Legislature normally approves individual bills to restore voting rights one person at a time. Normally less than five people have their rights restored each year. In the 2021 session, the rights of just two people were restored.

But there seemed to be a consensus at Bain’s October hearing that rights could be restored to large swaths of people in one piece of legislation instead of restoring rights one person and one bill at a time.

Some said they believe the Legislature has the constitutional authority to restore rights to just those already convicted.

But Paloma Wu, a deputy director with the Mississippi Center for Justice, said she believes the Constitution is not clear on the issue and said legislators could restore voting rights for people convicted in the future and allow the courts to interpret the issue should a be filed challenging the law.

Most all agreed, though, that to restore the rights to a large group of people would take two-thirds approval from members of both chambers just as it does to restore rights to an individual convicted of a felony. That process could prove difficult in a Legislature where in recent years, many members of the Republican majority have been reluctant to restore voting rights.

In a perfect world, Bain has said he believes it should be another entity, such as the judiciary, and not the Legislature that restores voting rights. It is not clear whether giving that authority to the courts could be done without a constitutional amendment.

There is no public polling on whether voters would support removing the lifetime ban on voting if the Legislature offered such a proposal to the electorate. In Florida, voters overwhelmingly approved an initiative removing the ban.

One of the problems with the current process in Mississippi, Bain has said, is that a person faces a lifetime ban on voting for a felony bad check writing conviction, for instance, but could vote while in prison if convicted of child pornography or of being a major drug dealer.

The current system of disenfranchisement for those convicted of certain felonies has its roots in the state’s Jim Crow-era.

In the 1890s, the Mississippi Supreme Court wrote the disfranchisement of people of specific felonies was placed in the Constitution “to obstruct the exercise of the franchise by the negro race” by targeting “the offenses to which its weaker members were prone.” The crimes selected by lawmakers to go into the Constitution were thought by the white political leaders as more likely to be committed by African Americans.

That provision is currently being challenged on constitutional grounds in the federal courts with two cases pending before the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Attorneys have argued that the provision’s intent is the same as the poll tax, the literacy test and other Jim Crow-era provisions that sought to prevent African Americans from voting.

Another sure way to change the state’s felony suffrage ban is for the courts to strike it down.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Record-breaking crowds line up to vote on Mississippi Coast

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Vote

[Source: Sun Herald Youtube Channel]

Hundreds came out to vote early Tuesday morning to cast their vote at polling places on the Mississippi Coast.

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