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Voting Rights Restoration For 32 Mississippians Advances After Broader Suffrage Bill Fails

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Thirty-two Mississippians convicted of felonies could get their voting rights back after lawmakers advanced suffrage bills on Monday, weeks after a Senate leader killed a broader bill that would have restored suffrage to many more people with criminal records.

The move is necessary due to Mississippi’s piecemeal approach to restoring voting rights to people convicted of felony offenses who have paid their debts to society. It also reflects the legacy of the state’s original list of disenfranchising crimes, which springs from the Jim Crow era. The attorneys who have sued to challenge the list say authors of the state constitution removed voting rights for crimes they thought Black people were more likely to commit.

To have voting rights restored, people convicted of any of the crimes must get a pardon from the governor or persuade lawmakers to pass individual bills just for them, with two-thirds approval of the House and Senate. Lawmakers in recent years have passed few of those bills, and they passed none in 2023.

“I certainly don’t think this is the best way to do it,” said Republican Rep. Kevin Horan of Grenada, who chairs the House Judiciary B Committee. “There comes a point in time where individuals who have paid their debt to society, they’re paying taxes, they’re doing the things they need to do, there’s no reason those individuals shouldn’t have the right to vote.”

Despite lawmakers’ dismay with the current process, some are trying to restore suffrage for select individuals. On Monday, lawmakers on House and Senate Judiciary committees passed a combined 32 bills. The bills were introduced after a House hearing on Wednesday highlighted the difficulties some former felons face in regaining the right to vote.

Mississippi is among the 26 states that remove voting rights from people for criminal convictions, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Under the Mississippi Constitution, people lose the right to vote for 10 felonies, including bribery, theft and arson. The state’s previous attorney general, a Democrat, issued a ruling in 2009 that expanded the list to 22 crimes, including timber larceny and

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