JACKSON, MS - The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Mississippi filed a lawsuit in federal court today challenging the state's denial of voting rights to citizens with felony convictions. Although the Mississippi Constitution permits people who have been convicted of a crime to vote for president and vice president, election administrators are denying that right in practice. In today's filings, the ACLU asked the court to allow these citizens to register to vote in time to cast ballots for president and vice president this November.
"With the presidential election less than two months away, Mississippi is denying thousands of citizens their fundamental right to vote," said Nancy Abudu, staff counsel with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "By refusing to allow eligible citizens to register and vote for the highest offices in the land, Mississippi election officials are undermining the integrity of the state's election system and degrading our country's democratic principles. We will not sit back and let election supervisors continue to violate state and federal law."
According to Mississippi's constitution, people with certain felony convictions are allowed to vote for president and vice president, but not other political offices. But because the state's voter registration application does not allow all prospective voters to register for presidential and vice presidential elections only, many voters are wrongly disqualified. The ACLU is representing Jerry Young and Christy Colley, two Mississippi residents who have been convicted of felonies in the past and cannot vote due to the flawed administration of the state's election laws.
In addition to the state constitution, Mississippi's voter disenfranchisement practices violate the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause and the National Voter Registration Act, which establishes procedures to increase the number of eligible citizens registered to vote in federal elections.
"I pay my taxes and have paid my debt to society, I should be given my right to vote," said Young. "This is a right I take very seriously. I am a citizen of Mississippi and the United States and I want my voice to be heard this November."
In 2004, Mississippi's secretary of state unlawfully circumvented the state constitution by amending the voter registration form and adding a number of felonies to the list of crimes that disqualifies an individual from voting. The ACLU challenged the state's interpretation of its felony disenfranchisement laws in state court and that lawsuit is pending.
"The unlawful disenfranchisement of thousands of Mississippians is unconscionable. Many of these people work and pay both state and federal taxes, but they have no voice in choosing their elected officials, no say in who represents them," said Kristy Bennett, staff attorney with the ACLU of Mississippi. "Our state law specifically provides that all people, regardless of whether they have a felony conviction of any kind, are entitled to vote in elections for president and vice president. It is obvious that the framers of our state constitution recognized the importance of allowing all citizens to vote for the leaders of this country and we must continue to fight for this fundamental right today."
Attorneys on the case are Abudu, Laughlin McDonald and Neil Bradley of the ACLU Voting Rights Project and Bennett of the ACLU of Mississippi.