2007 Regular Session
To: Judiciary B
By: Representative Myers
AN ACT TO CREATE THE RESTORATION OF VOTING RIGHTS ACT; TO PROVIDE THAT A PERSON WHO WAS DISQUALIFIED AS AN ELECTOR FOR COMMISSION OF CERTAIN CRIMES SHALL HAVE THE RIGHT TO VOTE RESTORED AUTOMATICALLY; TO PROVIDE THAT NOTICE SHALL BE GIVEN BEFORE A PLEA OF GUILTY OR NOLO CONTENDERE IS ACCEPTED IN A COURT OF LAW; TO REQUIRE THE SECRETARY OF STATE TO IMPLEMENT CERTAIN EDUCATION PROGRAMS FOR STATE AGENCIES AND JUDGES; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:
SECTION 1. This act shall be known as the "Restoration of Voting Rights Act."
SECTION 2. (1) The Mississippi State Legislature finds that:
(a) Voting is a fundamental right and a civic duty;
(b) Restoring the right to vote strengthens our democracy by increasing voter participation and helps people who have completed their sentences to reintegrate into society;
(c) Voting is an essential part of reassuming the duties of full citizenship;
(d) An estimated one hundred forty-six thousand one hundred fifty-five (146,155) people with felony convictions are barred from voting in Mississippi;
(e) Mississippi is one (1) of only eleven (11) states to indefinitely deny the vote to certain persons with felony convictions;
(f) One (1) in every fifteen (15) Mississippi voters is disfranchised; at a rate that is nearly three (3) times the national average;
(g) Mississippi has the nation's fourth highest disfranchisement rate at six and eighty-nine one-hundredths percent (6.89%);
(h) Eighty-three percent (83%) of Mississippi’s disfranchised population is not in prison or jail but living in the community;
(i) Seven percent (7%) of those disfranchised have fully completed their sentences;
(j) Restricting voting rights does not prevent crime, nor does it provide compensation to victims;
(k) Disenfranchising persons after release from prison is in fact antithetical to the reentry process and harmful to long-term prospects for sustainable reintegration of ex-offenders into society;
(l) Recent research has revealed a link between voting participation and reported that people who voted after release from supervision were half as likely to be re-arrested as those who did not vote;
(m) Criminal disenfranchisement in Mississippi has a disproportionate impact on minority communities which results in the disbarment of one (1) in every eight (8) African-American adults from voting statewide, resulting in the tenth highest rate of African-American disfranchisement in the country;
(n) Mississippi's current procedures to restore a person's voting rights are onerous and are used so infrequently that very few people have their right to vote restored;
(o) Under current law, a person may regain the right to vote by applying for a pardon from the Governor, or applying for an Executive Order Restoring Civil Rights from the Governor, or seeking to have the Legislature pass a bill of suffrage by a two-thirds (2/3) vote on their behalf, these processes that involve multiple branches of government in the restoration process complicate the process;
(p) Mississippi restored the right to vote to only one hundred seven (107) Mississippians in the twelve (12) years between 1992 and 2004.
(q) Extending disfranchisement beyond a person's sentence complicates the process of restoring the right to vote.
(r) Passage of the "Restoration of Voting Rights Act" would simplify restoration by making all those disfranchised eligible to vote once they have fully completed their sentences, including any terms of prison, parole, probation or community corrections;
(s) A streamlined restoration process conserves government resources and saves taxpayer dollars.
(2) The purposes of this act are to strengthen democratic institutions by increasing participation in the voting process, to help people who have fully completed their sentences to become productive members of society, and to streamline procedures for restoring their right to vote.
SECTION 3. (1) Except as provided by Section 99-19-37, any person who has lost the right of suffrage pursuant to Section 241 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890, shall have their suffrage restored automatically only when that person has fully completed all terms of prison, parole, probation, payment of restitution or community corrections and has remained crime and arrest free in the two-year period following his or her full completion of sentence, any term of prison, parole, probation or community corrections. At such time, the person's right to vote shall be restored by operation of law.
(2) If a person whose suffrage has been restored under this act shall appear in the registrar's office to register as a qualified elector, the person's name shall be entered on the pollbooks, if the person is otherwise a qualified elector.
SECTION 4. (1) Before accepting a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to a felony, and before imposing a felony sentence after trial, a court shall notify the defendant that conviction will result in loss of the right to vote until the full completion of sentence, including any terms of prison, parole, probation or community corrections, and that voting rights are automatically restored two (2) years after the person remains crime and arrest free in the two-year period following his or her full completion of sentence.
(2) As part of the process leading to the completion of a disenfranchised person's sentence, the Department of Corrections shall notify the person in writing that suffrage will be restored if the requirements of this act are met.
SECTION 5. The Secretary of State shall ensure that all persons who are eligible to vote face no continued barriers to registration or voting resulting from their felony convictions by developing and implementing a program to educate attorneys, judges, election officials, corrections officials, including parole and probation officers, and members of the public as required by this act, in the following manner:
(a) Judges are informed of their obligation to notify criminal defendants of the potential loss or retention of their voting rights, in accordance with this act.
(b) The language on voter registration forms makes clear that only people convicted of crimes listed in Section 241, Mississippi Constitution of 1890, are disqualified from voting and that all others retain the right to vote.
(c) Probation and parole officers are informed of which convicted individuals lose their voting rights and which convicted individuals retain their voting rights and are prepared to notify probationers and parolees of their rights.
(d) Accurate and complete information about the voting rights of people who have been charged with or convicted of crimes, whether disfranchising or not, is made available through a single publication to government officials and the public.
(e) The Department of Corrections is prepared to assist people with registration to vote in anticipation of their completion of all terms and conditions of their sentence, including forwarding their completed voter registration forms to the county circuit clerk.
(f) Probation and parole officers are informed of the change in the law and are prepared to notify probationers and parolees how their right to vote is restored.
SECTION 6. The Attorney General of the State of Mississippi shall submit this act, immediately upon approval by the Governor, or upon approval by the Legislature subsequent to a veto, to the Attorney General of the United States or to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in accordance with the provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended and extended.
SECTION 7. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after the date it is effectuated under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended and extended.