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Should felons have the right to vote?

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Should felons have the right to vote?
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Advocates for felon voting rights at press conference in New Orleans
AP Photo/Rebecca Santana

A group of six felons is pushing to have their right to vote in Mississippi restored. MPB's Kobee Vance reports on the federal appeals case to change the law.

A federal appeals court will decide whether it is constitutional for Mississippi to limit voting rights of felons after their sentence is complete. Paloma Wu is an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center. She was in court as the case before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on behalf of almost 30 thousand Mississippians. She says the punishment is not constitutional.

“People need to be treated like Mississippians- actually believe people ought to be treated. Which is that after you’ve served your time, when you’ve completed your sentence and you’re back in society, paying taxes contributing, that you ought to have a say. That you’re a person. One person one vote. That’s what we hope to have done, is this lifetime ban goes away.

Kamal Karriem is a former city councilman for the city of Columbus. He says he pleaded guilty to embezzlement, and after serving his full ten years in prison and parole, he still cannot vote.

“That should have discontinued because according to the gold seal I have met my requirement and have satisfied Mississippi Department of Corrections. So why not have my full rights back? Why not be able to vote? Why not be able to enjoy equal opportunity and employment?”

Republican representative Randy Rushing is on the House Corrections Committee. He says he would like to see felons regain their right to vote but only after they have repaid their debt to society.

“Once all that’s been taken care of, I think that should be an opportunity for that person to get their life back together to get a job and become a productive member. And by doing so, they should be reestablished and have their right to vote reestablished.”

A felon who wants their voting rights restored must be pardoned by the governor or have approval by two-thirds of the state legislature.

There are 22 felonies in Mississippi that will lead to losing the right to vote. They range from murder and forgery to timber larceny and felony shoplifting.