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Federal court strikes down Mississippi’s lifetime voting ban for convicted felons

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The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel has struck down a Mississippi law that implements a lifetime voting ban on some convicted felons.

On Friday, in a 2-1 decision, the panel ruled that the provision in the state’s constitution violates the eighth amendment of the U.S. Constitution which outlaws cruel and unusual punishment.

The state’s lifetime voting ban for those with disqualifying lifetime convictions was put in place in 1890 — during the Jim Crow era —and was allegedly a measure by white lawmakers seeking to strip Black voters of the right to vote.

Now the court is ordering Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson’s office to stop enforcing the portion of state law that prevents people convicted of murder, rape, bribery, theft, arson, obtaining money or goods under false pretense, perjury, forgery, embezzlement, or bigamy from voting.

Mississippi Democratic Party chair Cheikh Taylor responded to Friday’s ruling, stating, “Mississippi’s voting rights remain fragile for far too many in this state, and Republican leaders will continue to do everything in their power to keep it that way.”

“They do that because they’re scared. Scared that you exercising your fundamental right to vote will result in their diminished power. Republicans would rather manufacture stories about voter fraud, stand in the way of reinstating the ballot initiative, or refuse to let people who have paid their debt to society use their voice than adopt common sense solutions to the challenges facing our state.”

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch is planning on calling on all members of the federal appeals to reevaluate the panel’s decision. Last year, the same court declined to overturn the lifetime voting ban law, and this year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to weigh in on the matter.

A 2020 study conducted by Sentencing Project found that nearly 11% of Mississippi’s overall population and roughly 16% of the state’s Black population — a total of 235,152 individuals — were unable to vote as a result of their status as convicted felons.

If the panel’s ruling is upheld, many Mississippians currently unable to cast a ballot will have their voting rights restored by the November 7 general elections.

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