Convicted felons file federal lawsuit to regain rights to vote i - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

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Convicted felons file federal lawsuit to regain rights to vote in MS

Convicted felons file federal lawsuit to regain rights to vote in MS; Source: WLBT Convicted felons file federal lawsuit to regain rights to vote in MS; Source: WLBT
Convicted felons file federal lawsuit to regain rights to vote in MS; Source: WLBT Convicted felons file federal lawsuit to regain rights to vote in MS; Source: WLBT
JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

Convicted felons are filing a federal lawsuit to regain their rights to vote in Mississippi. The Southern Poverty Law Center is representing six plaintiffs in the case. The 1890 constitution and the attorney general outlined those crimes and the felonies range from bigamy to timber larceny.

"Mississippi is clearly an outlier, clearly a state that in this regard at least is clinging to an 1890 vision of who should vote and who should not vote," said attorney Jonathan Youngwood who is working with the Southern Poverty Law Center representing convicted felons who want to regain their voting rights.

The 1890 constitution lists 10 crimes.  A 2009 Attorney General's opinion included 12 increasing the list to 22 disenfranchising crimes.

They include arson, armed robbery, bigamy, bribery, embezzlement, extortion, felony bad check, felony shoplifting, forgery, larceny, murder, obtaining money or goods under false pretense, perjury, rape, receiving stolen property, robbery, theft, timber larceny, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, statutory rap, carjacking and larceny under lease or rental agreement.

The Mississippi Attorney General's office released this statement:

"The Mississippi Constitution lists 10 crimes which prevent Mississippi citizens from voting. In 1998, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals stated in Cotton v Fordice that there were five additional crimes which were sufficiently similar to the broad crimes listed in the MS Constitution such as theft.  After the 1998 Cotton v. Fordice case, this office issued opinions beginning in 2000 identifying which crimes have the same elements as those encompassed by Section 241 of the Constitution and render someone ineligible to vote, bringing the total to 22. These opinions were provided in response to specific requests from local officials."

One legal expert says states do have the authority to disenfranchise former inmates.

"The challenge for the people bringing this lawsuit is to show that this approach to felony disenfranchisement is both an outlier for the rest of the country and deeply connected to our lamentable sorry history on race," said Mississippi College of Law Professor Matt Steffey.

Convicted felons are allowed to vote after completing their sentence in 40 states.

"I am an American citizen. I pay my taxes, and it has gone on long enough," said Dennis Hopkins, one of the six plaintiffs who was convicted of grand larceny 20 years ago. "I'm not the only one. They're trying to keep us in the closet. They're trying to keep us under the cover and they're trying to keep us in the corners but no longer".

This legislative session Senate Bill 2515 offered the amendment to restore voting rights upon the completion of the sentence and following a two year waiting period. The bill died in committee.

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