The report also offers historical context for the racial discrimination inherent in felony disfranchisement laws and illustrates the present-day impact of such laws on the Black community in Mississippi.
“After the Civil War, Mississippi and other states passed felony disenfranchisement laws, alongside voter qualifications that are now illegal like literacy tests, poll taxes, and lengthy residency requirements. The intent then and now is clear—to exclude Black and other people from participating in the political process,” said Charles Hampton, Sr., president of the MS NAACP. “The felony disenfranchisement laws adopted in Mississippi continue to have a disproportionate impact on Black Mississippians’ ability to exercise their fundamental right to vote.”
Mississippi has one the country’s worst incarceration rates, imprisoning a significant percentage of its citizens in comparison to other states. Black Mississippians are disproportionately represented at every level of the state’s criminal justice system, effectively stripping them of their right to vote and decreasing the potential political influence in communities of color.
More than 90 percent of disenfranchised Mississippians are living in communities either under probation or parole supervision, or have completed their criminal sentence. All of these individuals will be barred from voting in this year’s election—a backwards by-product of the state’s mass incarceration policies.
“Mississippi’s restrictive suffrage laws do not go far enough in providing a meaningful opportunity for enfranchisement,” said Corey Wiggins, executive director of the MS NAACP. “To deny people the fundamental right to vote is at odds with ample evidence showing the expansion of voting rights not only leads to safer communities but has widespread public support.”
In addition to providing concrete data to support the case for policy reform, the report highlights common sense policy reforms measures that have worked in other states, such as automatic rights restoration and enhanced data collection. Several states have enacted recent reforms to expand the electorate. Maryland extended voting rights to persons on probation and parole, and in Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe has restored voting rights to 174,000 individuals who have completed their felony sentences. In addition, the state of Alabama has moved to ease the rights restoration process for certain individuals who have completed their sentences.
“Mississippi should build on its work in criminal justice reform by addressing the significant collateral consequences of mass incarceration.” said Nicole D. Porter, director of advocacy of The Sentencing Project. “Felony disenfranchisement is a heavy and unfair burden for Mississippi’s African American population to bear and impacts not just the people in prison but community residents long after their sentence is completed.”
To download the report, visit the MS NAACP website at www.naacpms.org. For more information on the MS NAACP’s work around criminal justice reform or other issues impacting communities of color in Mississippi, contact the state conference office at email@example.com.