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Courts decline to allow Miss. felons to vote

By HOLBROOK MOHR

Associated Press Writer

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - An attorney for the American Civil

Liberties Union says its unlikely that at least 146,000 convicted

felons in Mississippi will be allowed to vote in the Nov. 4

presidential election.

The ACLU concedes that Mississippi law prevents people convicted

of certain felonies from voting in most Mississippi and federal

elections. However, the ACLU claims in a federal lawsuit filed in

September, that there's an exception in the Mississippi

constitution that allows people with felony convictions to vote in

the presidential elections. The state says that's a

misinterpretation.

"These folks probably won't be allowed to vote in November

unless the district court issues a favorable ruling in the next

week - highly unlikely," said Nancy Abudu, a lawyer with the ACLU

Voting Rights Project.

Mississippians convicted of 21 types of crimes are prohibited

from voting, ranging from murder and rape to bribery and bigamy.

U.S. District Judge Tom Lee refused last month to issue a

preliminary injunction that would have forced Mississippi officials

to allow felons to vote for president.

Lee said the ACLU is "not likely to succeed on the merits of

their claims," but he did not dismiss the lawsuit itself. The ACLU

appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans,

which declined last week to issue a similar emergency injunction.

A motion filed by the secretary of state's office to dismiss the

lawsuit is pending.

Pam Weaver, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Delbert

Hosemann, said only that Lee had ruled against the injunction and,

"Therefore, disenfranchised felons will not be able to vote in the

2008 general election."

If convicted felons in Mississippi - a state that historically

votes Republican in presidential elections - were allowed to vote

this year it would likely benefit Democratic Illinois Sen. Barack

Obama, Abudu said.

Blacks in Mississippi are incarcerated at a higher rate than

whites "and it's no secret that African Americans strongly support

Obama," Abudu said.

"However, we have not adopted wholesale the argument that felon

re-enfranchisement efforts will only help Democrats," she said.

Abudu pointed out that some Republicans - Florida Gov. Charlie

Christ and Jack Kemp, a 1996 candidate for vice president and now

adviser to GOP presidential candidate John McCain - have supported

some efforts to help felons regain the right to vote.

Convicted felons in Mississippi can have their voting rights

restored by successfully petitioning the state Legislature to do

so, but Abudu has said that's "a really arduous task for anybody

to have to go through."

The Legislature restored voting rights to eight people during

its most recent session.

Another lawsuit filed by the ACLU in state court claims there

are 10 crimes in the Mississippi constitution that prohibit people

from voting, but notes that 21 are listed on the voter registration

forms.

Hoseman told The Associated Press last week that there are in

fact 11 disenfranchising crimes named in Mississippi statute, but

"the attorney general has expanded them to 21."

"There over 300 felonies in Mississippi," Hosemann said.

In the past, Hosemann has advocated adding more felonies to the

list of crimes that would prohibit people from voting, including

sexual predators, drug dealers and those convicted of kidnapping.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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