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Study: Mississippi has highest rate of felon disenfranchisement in the nation

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(Photo by Phil Roeder from Des Moines, IA, USA - 11.2.2010 291/365, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79215983)

Mississippi now denies a higher percentage of its residents the right to vote because of felony convictions than any state in the country, according to a recent study.

In Mississippi, 235,150 people, or 10.6% of the state’s voting age population, have lost their right to vote, according to a recent study by The Sentencing Project, a national nonprofit that advocates for voting and criminal justice issues. Since 2016, Mississippi has moved from second to first highest percentage in the nation.

Mississippi also has the third highest percentage of disenfranchised Black residents of any state in the nation: 130,500 Black Mississippians, or 16% of that voting age population, cannot vote. Mississippi is third to Wyoming (36.22%) and Tennessee (21.65%).

Both Mississippi percentages are well above national averages: total felony disenfranchisement is 2.3% nationally, and the national average for disenfranchised African Americans is 6.3%.

The Mississippi Constitution, written by white lawmakers in 1890, contains a list of crimes for which a person convicted of a felony loses voting rights. The original list of crimes deemed to be disenfranchising has been updated by official opinions from the attorney general’s office through the years to coincide with modern criminal law.

Disenfranchising crimes 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 rape, carjacking and larceny under lease or rental agreement.

There are other crimes, such as crimes connected with the sale of drugs, where a person convicted of a felony does not lose the right to vote and actually is eligible to vote while incarcerated.

Felony disenfranchisement language was added to the state Constitution in the 1890s as one of several attempts to prevent Black Mississippians from voting. With African Americans still being disproportionately convicted of crimes, that continues to be the effect of the disenfranchisement language.

A 2018 analysis by Mississippi Today found that 61% of the Mississippians who have lost their rights to vote are African American, despite the fact that African Americans represent 36% of the state’s total voting-age population.

Most states restore voting rights for people convicted of felonies at some point after they finish their sentence or complete their parole and probation. But in Mississippi, people convicted of many crimes — some of the crimes violent, and some not — never have their rights restored unless done so by a two-thirds vote of both chambers of the Legislature or by a gubernatorial pardon.

READ MORE: Not all ex-felons are barred from voting in Mississippi, but no one is telling them that.

Legislation to automatically restore voting rights to felons at some point after serving their sentence is introduced most years in the Legislature and in past years has passed one chamber, but died in the other. There are federal lawsuits pending claiming that permanent disenfranchisement violates the U.S. Constitution.

In the 2020 session, the Legislature restored the right to vote to six felons. In 2019, legislators restored suffrage to 16 – the most since 2004 when voting rights were restored to 34. Between 2000 and 2020, the Legislature averaged restoring voting rights to 7.3 felons per year.

In a 2016 study, The Sentencing Project estimated that Florida was first in the nation for total felony disenfranchisement at 10.4%, and Mississippi was second at 9.6%.

Florida voters approved a citizen-sponsored initiative in 2018 to restore voting rights to most after their sentences were completed. Still, 7.7% of Floridians convicted of felonies have not had their rights restored in large part because they have not paid off fines and fees mandated by the Florida Legislature.

But no such major reform has passed in Mississippi.

“Mississippi is one of those states with indefinite disenfranchisement, essentially lifetime disenfranchisement,” said University of Minnesota professor Christopher Uggen, the lead researcher on the Sentencing Project report. “Many of the other states have pared back those restrictions… In Mississippi, it is for life.

“That means if you had a felony conviction in 1972 you are still locked out of that process without some extraordinary effort,” Uggen continued. “And frankly the number of restorations in Mississippi, the people who go through the formal process, is tiny. Clearly, in my view, this is a vestige of the long civil rights process where we had very restrictive laws in the 19th century, and some of them exist today.”

The Sentencing Project held a recent conference call to release the report that detailed how the number of disenfranchised felons had dropped from more than 6.1 million in 2016 to about 5.2 million in 2020 as states like Florida and others have reformed their laws. In many states, governors have issued executive orders restoring rights to thousands of felons.

Shahur Abdullah, who served 41 years in prison in Nebraska and founded JustUs 15 Vote, had his rights restored when the state of Nebraska changed its law from a permanent ban to a ban for two years after being released from prison. He said voting was particularly important to him because his father, a Mississippi native, was not able to vote in his home state after fighting for the United States in the Korean Conflict. Abdullah’s father later moved his family from Philadelphia, Mississippi, to Nebraska.

“Given my own personal history, and this country’s history of systemic racism and white supremacy, I felt the full weight of my ancestors behind me when I voted for the first time,” Abdullah said. “We ought to remember that this country was founded on the principle of no taxation without representation. I was immediately required to pay taxes upon my release from incarceration, but my vote wasn’t accepted. This should never be the case.”


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

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801 new COVID-19 cases reported Wednesday in Mississippi; seven-day average a third higher than last month

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New COVID-19 cases remain high in Mississippi, with the seven-day average one-third higher than it was at this time in September.

The Mississippi State Department of Health reported five new COVID-19 cases Wednesday in Warren County and no new deaths. The cumulative number of cases in Warren County to date is 1,532, and the county’s death toll is 55.

Statewide, MSDH reported 801 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, bringing the total cumulative confirmed cases in Mississippi to 112,123. The seven-day average of new cases is 758, higher by 253 cases, about one-third, from a month ago.

Most new cases are seen in younger people recently, and they are more likely to survive the virus than those 65 and older. By far, the age group reporting the most cases in Mississippi are young people from 18 to 29 years old.

MSDH reported Wednesday that 21 additional Mississippians died of COVID-19 statewide. The cumulative number of deaths in the state is 3,223. The state’s rate of deaths to confirmed cases is about 2.9%.

Deaths are a lagging indicator. While July saw the highest number of new cases since the crisis began, August saw the highest number of deaths. The highest number of deaths in any one day was 67 reported Aug. 25.

Of the 21 deaths MSDH reported Wednesday, 12 occurred between Aug. 11 and Oct. 19 in the following counties:

County Deaths reported Wednesday
Forrest 1
Hinds 3
Jackson 2
Jones 1
Lauderdale 1
Lincoln 1
Panola 1
Pearl River 1
Washington 1

Nine COVID-19 related deaths occurred between Aug. 19 and Oct. 14, identified from death certificate reports.

County Deaths identified from death certificate reports
Clarke 1
George 1
Issaquena 1
Jones 1
Lauderdale 2
Perry 1
Washington 1
Itawamba 1

New cases and deaths were reported to MSDH as of 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 20. MSDH usually reports statistics on the COVID-19 coronavirus each day based on the previous day’s testing and death reports.

The primary metric concerning state health officials are the numbers of people hospitalized, and that number rose steadily with the rise of new cases in July and August. On June 6, the number of Mississippians hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 was at 358. Hospitalizations nearly tripled by late July. They leveled off in early August and began noticeably dropping in the middle of the month including critical cases and numbers of people requiring ventilators. Hospitalizations continued to drop in September but levelled off at the middle of the month. They dropped again through Oct. 3; however, hospitalizations have been showing a rise since then.

The number of Mississippians hospitalized for the virus as of 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18, is 653, more than half of the late July peak of about 1,200. The number includes 541 with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 112 people with suspected but unconfirmed cases. Of those with confirmed infections, 151 were critically ill and in intensive care units and 70 were on ventilators.

Source: MSDH

MSDH has estimated the number of people who can be presumed recovered from COVID-19 in Mississippi. That number is 97,675 through Sunday, Oct. 11. This figure is updated weekly. It represents about 87.1% of the cumulative 112,123 cases reported Wednesday, Oct. 21.

The number of cases in Warren County three weeks ago, Wednesday, Sept. 30, was 1,418, therefore the estimated number of people presumed recovered in the county is 1,363, or about 89% of the 1,532 cumulative cases reported as of Wednesday, Oct. 21. The county has an estimated 114 active cases.

These estimates are based on MSDH’s guidelines for calculating estimated recoveries when hospitalizations are not known, using the number of cases 21 days ago, less known outcomes (deaths).

The total number of Mississippians tested for COVID-19 (PCR and antigen tests identifying current infections) as of Thursday, Oct. 15, is 900,479 or about 30.3% of the state’s 2.976 million residents. Mississippi’s positivity rate (positive results to tests, seven-day average) was 17.8% Tuesday according to Johns Hopkins University. The national rate is 5.5%, and 5% or lower indicates adequate testing.

The total number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities was 127 Tuesday. About 40.1%, or 1,293, of the state’s total deaths were people in long-term care facilities.

A total of 26 deaths in Warren County were residents of LTC facilities.

MSDH is no longer reporting outbreaks in individual long-term care facilities in Mississippi and has replaced it with access to a database from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. You can access and search the data here. The latest data available is for the week ending Oct. 4.

For additional information, visit the MSDH website.

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Mississippi’s absentee voting in 2020 outpacing 2016

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The number of requested absentee ballots this year has already outpaced the number of absentee ballots cast in 2016.

In the last presidential election, Mississippians requested 110,812 ballots. Circuit clerks sent out 110,810 ballots and received 102,915. Of those, 101,339 were accepted.

This year, as of Sunday, Oct. 18, voters requested 120,253 absentee ballots and 115,848 ballots have been sent. Clerks have received 89,499 absentee ballots according to Secretary of State Michael Watson.

The in person absentee voting deadline is Saturday, Oct. 31, at 5 p.m. All mail-in absentee ballots must be postmarked by Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, and received within five business days of the election to be counted.

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