View Full Version : Article sheds light on who can vote in MS after a felony conviction

10-08-2004, 07:04 PM (

Posted on Fri, Oct. 08, 2004

Mississippi inmates targeted for voter registration

Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. - An untapped voting bloc in Mississippi - those housed in jails and prisons - has been pursued in voter registration efforts.
The Mississippi NAACP asked sheriffs to let inmates register to vote before the Oct. 1 deadline, Derrick Johnson, the organization's state president, said Friday. Johnson said volunteers registered voters in several county jails, including Pike, Lauderdale and Hinds.

There is a widely held misconception that all felony convicts lose the right to vote, Johnson said. According to the Mississippi Constitution, only those convicted of rape, murder, bribery, theft, arson, perjury, forgery, embezzlement, bigamy or obtaining money or goods under false pretense are disenfranchised.

Some people in county jails are awaiting trial and have not yet been convicted of any crime.

Johnson said registering inmates began as a pilot project in Pike County in 2002.

Pike County Circuit Clerk Robert Graves said if he gets a request, he'll allow county jail inmates to go to the courthouse to vote Nov. 2.

Graves said in 2002 he asked the sheriff to compile a list of inmates who wanted to vote. He checked the inmates' eligibility and then had them bused to the courthouse to cast ballots.

"I felt like it would be less fraud in the courthouse than with the ballots leaving the courthouse. It seemed to work," Graves said.

Graves said between 40 and 50 inmates have exercised their right to vote in the last two state elections.

Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said registering eligible state prisoners has long been the policy of the Department of Corrections. Administered by the inmate legal program, the prisoners vote by absentee ballot, Epps said.

The state Democratic and Republican chairmen said they weren't involved in efforts to tap the prison vote.

"We're not targeting that voting bloc. We're just not comfortable going into the jails," said state GOP Chairman Jim Herring.

Said Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Dowdy: "I really thought felons of any type were removed from voter rolls."

Johnson said quashing the myth about across-the-board disenfranchisement has been a formidable task.

"We're posting notices. We had an ad in the (Jackson) Advocate. We do a lot of word of mouth. We're going to areas where we know people may have been convicted of crime," he said.

Another NAACP election project is poll worker training. Johnson said there are some concerns about potential intimidation or harassment over a voter identification requirement. Under the Help America Vote Act, all first-time voters who register by mail must present valid ID at the polls.

The NAACP is recruiting poll workers and providing training.

"We're going to make sure the right individuals are required to present ID. Everyone should go to the polls and that shouldn't be a deterrent," Johnson said.

Secretary of State Eric Clark said his office is sending out posters with voter information that have to be displayed in polling places. One of the posters explains who must present ID before voting.