VOT­ING

Starkville Daily News - - FO­RUM -

state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice wrote on be­half of Hose­mann court pa­pers filed April 5.

The law­suit filed in Sep­tem­ber was as­signed to U.S. Dis­trict Judge Daniel P. Jor­dan III, who was nom­i­nated to the bench by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush. The one filed in March was as­signed to U.S. Dis­trict Judge Carl­ton Reeves, who was nom­i­nated by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

The Mis­sis­sippi Con­sti­tu­tion spec­i­fies 10 felonies that strip away vot­ing rights upon con­vic­tion, in­clud­ing mur­der,

forgery and bigamy. A state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s opin­ion later added 12 more dis­en­fran­chis­ing crimes, in­clud­ing tim­ber lar­ceny and car­jack­ing.

The orig­i­nal list of dis­en­fran­chis­ing crimes was put into the 1890 Mis­sis­sippi Con­sti­tu­tion, and both law­suits say the in­tent was to di­min­ish African-Amer­i­cans’ po­lit­i­cal power af­ter Re­con­struc­tion.

“It’s im­por­tant that we re­move this ves­tige of white supremacy from the Mis­sis­sippi Con­sti­tu­tion and al­low peo­ple to vote free of the legacy of racial dis­crim­i­na­tion,” at­tor­ney Robert McDuff said af­ter

he and sev­eral other at­tor­neys filed the law­suit in Sep­tem­ber.

To re­gain the right to vote, peo­ple con­victed of the dis­en­fran­chis­ing crimes must get per­mis­sion from two-thirds of the Leg­is­la­ture and the gov­er­nor. Only 14 peo­ple have man­aged this in the past five years.

Dur­ing the 2018 ses­sion, leg­is­la­tors filed bills to re­store vot­ing rights to seven ad­di­tional peo­ple. Five of the bills passed, and two failed.

Repub­li­can Gov. Phil Bryant, now in his sev­enth year in of­fice, has been let­ting suf­frage restora­tion bills be­come law with­out his sig­na­ture.

This year, he let four be­come law with­out sign­ing them and ve­toed the fifth. In a brief veto mes­sage Fri­day, he said restor­ing vot­ing rights de­pends on the sup­port of law en­force­ment “and the per­son’s abil­ity to show re­spon­si­bil­ity and hon­esty af­ter con­vic­tion.”

The law­suit filed in March says Mis­sis­sippi’s sys­tem is “harsh, puni­tive and un­for­giv­ing” and dis­pro­por­tion­ately hurts African-Amer­i­cans. It seeks au­to­matic or un­com­pli­cated restora­tion of vot­ing rights once a per­son com­pletes a sen­tence for a dis­en­fran­chis­ing crime, which 40 states al­ready have. The aim of the

Sep­tem­ber law­suit is sim­i­lar.

Be­tween 1994 and 2017, about 47,000 peo­ple in Mis­sis­sippi were con­victed of dis­en­fran­chis­ing crimes, and about 60 per­cent of them have com­pleted their sen­tences but have not re­gained their vot­ing rights, said Jonathan K. Young­wood, a New York­based at­tor­ney in the March law­suit. Some are still serv­ing time.

African-Amer­i­cans make up about 38 per­cent of Mis­sis­sippi’s pop­u­la­tion and 36.5 per­cent of the state’s reg­is­tered vot­ers. Young­wood said 59 per­cent to 60 per­cent of peo­ple con­victed of dis­en­fran­chis­ing

crimes in the state are black.

One of the plain­tiffs of the Sep­tem­ber law­suit is Ka­mal Kar­riem, a for­mer Columbus city coun­cil­man who pleaded guilty to em­bez­zle­ment in 2005 af­ter be­ing charged with steal­ing a city cell­phone. He is the brother of Demo­cratic state Rep. Kabir Kar­riem of Columbus, who filed two of the bills this year to re­store vot­ing rights to for­mer con­victs.

“Once you’ve paid your debt to so­ci­ety, I be­lieve you should be al­lowed to par­tic­i­pate again,” Ka­mal Kar­riem said. “I don’t think it should be held against you for the rest of your life.”

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