Walthall man among 4 to have voting rights restored by Senate

Published 9:34 am Thursday, April 25, 2024

The state Senate on Wednesday agreed to restore voting rights to four people who have completed their prison sentences and paid restitution for disenfranchising felony convictions.

“I think we all have failed at some point in our lives,” Democratic Sen. Juan Barnett of Heidelberg said on the Senate floor. “I think we all have asked for forgiveness. And these individuals now who are before us on these suffrage bills are asking us to forgive them of those things.”

The GOP-majority chamber overwhelmingly approved the bills, and they now head to the House for consideration.

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Sen. Mike Seymour, a Republican from Vancleave, was the only person in the 52-member Senate who voted against all of the suffrage restoration bills. Reporters attempted to ask Seymour why he opposed all of the suffrage measures, but he churlishly walked down three flights of stairs without substantively answering the questions.

The only thing he said in response to the media’s inquiries was a cryptic and confusing remark that he believes “everybody should have the same right to suffrage.” He declined to elaborate what that meant and darted into an office.

The four people the Senate restored voting rights to were:

  • A Newton County man who was released from prison in 1989 for escape, burglary and larceny convictions
  • An Oktibbeha County man who was released from prison in 1997 on an embezzlement conviction
  • An Oktibbeha County man who was released from prison in 1994 on a false pretenses-communications conviction
  • A Walthall County man who was convicted of grand larceny in 1977; Lawmakers said the conviction occurred so long ago that the Mississippi Department of Corrections did not even have all of the documentation in its possession to show how many years he served and when he was released from custody.

Senators voted down a bill to restore voting rights to a Yazoo County man who was convicted of possessing stolen goods and attempted armed robbery in 1995. He was released to parole on September 16, 1997, and discharged on February 13, 2000.

Sen. Walter Michel, a Republican from Ridgeland, and Sen. Chad McMahan, a Republican from Guntown, told reporters they voted against restoring suffrage to the Yazoo County man  because they believe attempted armed robbery is a violent crime, and they oppose restoring voting rights to people convicted of violent crimes.

“If you put a gun to somebody’s head or somebody murders somebody, then I’m going to vote against restoring suffrage,” Michel said. “But if they stole some money, and it was 35 or 40 years ago, I’m fine with that.”

A senator held the defeated measure on a procedural measure, so the chamber could reconsider the issue at a later date.

The Senate’s decision to reject an effort to restore suffrage to the Yazoo County man comes a week after Kenneth Almons, a Jackson resident who was convicted of armed robbery and aggravated assault at 17 years old, testified before a legislative committee.

At 51, Almons has run his own business, currently works for the city of Jackson, has raised three children and has not been convicted of any other crime for nearly three decades.

Lawmakers who attended the hearing asked Almons, who served five years in state prison, what it would mean if the state restored his voting rights.

“It would mean I’m no longer a nobody,” Almons responded. “And if you can’t vote, you’re nobody. And in the public’s eye, I’m a nobody.”

Michel said he would advise Almons that he can attempt to persuade a lawmaker to introduce a suffrage restoration bill on his behalf and let the bill work its way through the state’s lawmaking process.

Michel, who represents a part of Hinds County, said he would not be willing to introduce such a measure for Almons.

Senators authored around nine suffrage restoration bills, and Senate Judiciary B Chairman Joey Fillingane, a Republican from Sumrall, decided to bring five of those bills up for debate. Members of the committee voted to advance all five suffrage bills with no opposition.

The Senate bills will now head to the House for consideration where House Speaker Jason White will likely refer the measures to the House Judiciary B Committee for consideration, which is led by Rep. Kevin Horan, a Republican from Grenada.

Horan previously told Mississippi Today that he will not restore suffrage to people convicted of violent offenses or those previously convicted of embezzling public money. Additionally, Horan said people must have completed the terms of their sentence and not have been convicted of another felony offense for at least five years to be considered.

The committee Horan leads advanced 27 House suffrage bills out of the committee, but he has not presented them for consideration in the full House chamber. Lawmakers can debate suffrage bills until the final days of the 2024 session.

Taylor Vance, Mississippi Today