Hosemann seeks changes in felon voting rights laws

Published 6:00 am Thursday, March 6, 2008

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann is looking to keep morefelons from voting from behind bars, but he also is supportingefforts to restore voting rights once felons have completed theirpunishment.

Hosemann, in his first term as the state’s man in charge ofelection issues, stopped in Brookhaven Wednesday to discuss felonvoting issues. He said the state Constitution prohibits peopleconvicted of certain crimes from voting, but that those convictedof hundreds of other crimes are still allowed to vote.

“Some examples of who can still vote while incarcerated at ourexpense for crimes against their fellow citizens are sexualpredators, cocaine pushers, meth lab operators and kidnappers,”Hosemann said. “It’s time for the felony voting requirements to bebrought into the 21st century.”

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Hosemann pointed out that of the approximately 50,000 peopleeither incarcerated or under the Mississippi Department ofCorrection’s supervision in some form, 38,000 are still allowed tovote. Only about 12,000 have been prohibited from voting.

Under the Constitution, crimes that will result in someonelosing their voting rights include murder, rape, bribery, theft,arson, false pretense, perjury, forgery, embezzlement orbigotry.

Hosemann added that other states, including all nine covered bythe 1965 Voting Rights Acts, disenfranchise or suspend votingrights upon conviction.

While Hosemann is working to prohibit more felons from voting,he is also pushing legislation to give voting rights back toconvicted felons in certain circumstances.

The secretary said he supports legislation that would allowfirst-time felons who have been released from MDOC supervision fortwo years and have maintained clean records to be allowed to voteagain.

“That seems fair to me,” said Hosemann, adding that the peoplemust have completed all aspects of their sentence, including timeserved and payment of any fines or penalties.

In those cases, Hosemann said, the people have paid their debtsand have re-entered society.

“They ought to have a right to vote on who’s going to be taxingthem,” Hosemann said.

Hosemann said the House of Representatives has passed the votingrights-related legislation.

Hosemann was traveling through Southwest Mississippi Wednesdayafter returning from a federal court hearing in New Orleansregarding Democrats’ lawsuit on primaries.

The party and others have appealed a judge’s ruling requiringthe state to establish a voter reregistration system, in whichpeople would declare their party or their independent status, and avoter identification system. Following Wednesday’s hearing,Hosemann said he expects an opinion to be issued in severalweeks.