Lawmakers and advocates question Governor’s latest veto involving expungements and voting rights

Published: Apr. 26, 2022 at 9:29 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - One of the Governor’s latest vetoes is sparking questions about what the current law does or doesn’t already allow.

The right to vote, not everyone has it. Mississippi has 22 disenfranchising crimes that take that right away. But more than half of those are eligible to be expunged. And attorneys say no one’s on the same page about what comes next.

Paloma Wu says they’ve had people walk out of expungement clinics at the Mississippi Center for Justice when they realize there’s a gray area on whether that expungement comes with the restoration of voting rights.

“I mean, people want to know, it looks like from the statute, the way it’s worded, I go back to the place I was before, before this crime that disenfranchise me, I could vote,” said Paloma Wu, Mississippi Center for Justice Deputy Director of Impact Litigation. “So it looks like from the statute, I can vote, and all the cautious people are just looking to the lawyers or to the legislature and saying, is that right, am I good? Silence.”

Lawmakers were trying to fill that silence with Senate Bill 2536.

“We came up with a bill that we think was essentially just clean up language that allowed those folks to get their right to vote back,” described Sen. Jeremy England. “But in order to do so, number one, they couldn’t have another felony or another disenfranchising crime on their record, they had to meet all the criteria to be an eligible voter in the state of Mississippi, and they had to re-register to vote. So there really wasn’t an automatic process in my mind with this bill.”

Governor Tate Reeves did call it automatic in his tweet about the veto. He argued in his veto message that it’s “not an attempt to “clarify” existing law, but rather an attempt to affect a significant and unwise change to Mississippi’s voting laws.”

“We’re back to status quo,” said Wu. “However, status quo is not completely clear.”

The Executive Director of One Voice says they’ll keep fighting for an end to the full felony voting ban.

“I think that the Governor’s message did what he intended it to do, and that’s to send a clear message that he does not support the re-enfranchisement of individuals with felony convictions,” said Nsombi Lambright-Haynes. “And so that message was pretty clear.”

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