Voting should be reserved for law-abiding citizens

Published 5:00 am Monday, October 23, 2006

Although far too few people exercise it, voting is a sacredright belonging to all law-abiding citizens.

When citizens become no longer law-abiding, it is necessary totake their voting rights away. Breaking any old law will not resultin the loss of voting rights, or suffrage, but the MississippiConstitution and an Attorney General’s opinion have identified over20 felonies that will result in disenfranchisement for theoffender.

A lawsuit filed earlier this month by the American CivilLiberties Union challenges the AG’s add-on list of disenfranchisingcrimes – ones like shoplifting, receiving stolen property, robbery,unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, statutory rape and carjacking.The organization contends the list should have been legislativelyinstead of through an AG’s opinion.

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The ACLU is also upset over the permanent loss of voting rightsunless an ex-con successfully navigates through a “confusing”legislative process to have their rights restored.

While the ACLU and critics may argue that Mississippi’s suffragelaws are among the most restrictive in the county, others maycontend the state is simply putting the emphasis on the importanceof being law-abiding citizens – and violation of that trust comeswith a cost. Why should a convicted felon – who has broken at leastone law serious enough to warrant the loss of his voting rights -have an easy path to voting rights restoration?

Many of the disenfranchising crimes involve the taking ofsomething – be it money, a vehicle or other property, or even asense of personal security and freedom one had before being thevictim of a crime.

In many cases, whatever the victim has lost cannot be regained.In that sense, it is not fair to have a felon’s voting rights,which were taken away as a result of his conviction, returned as ifnothing happened.

Fortunately, state lawmakers have found no widespread supportfor relaxing the voting rights restoration process. That’s the wayit should be.

If the ACLU wants legislative action on the AG’s list ofdisenfranchising crimes, then lawmakers should move to formallyapprove them.

And once a felon’s voting rights are taken away, they should notbe easily restored. That means lawmakers should stay the course andleave other suffrage laws alone.