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New Mississippi State Law Enabling Voting In Prisons Faces Obstacles

A new Mississippi law clarifies that some people held in jail or prison may vote in elections, but widespread confusion and a tangle of paperwork will likely continue to block many of them from casting ballots, The Marshall Project reports. The state permanently disenfranchises people convicted of crimes that fall into 22 broad criminal categories. However, people convicted of any other crimes remain eligible to vote. But among those incarcerated people who have not had their voting rights legally taken away, Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s office suggested several years ago that state law allows only those who happen to be incarcerated outside their county of residence to cast an absentee ballot. In their legislative session this year, state lawmakers approved the addition of a new absentee voting excuse that fixes this loophole, ending a system that blocked some otherwise legally eligible voters in jail or prison from voting based only on which side of a county line they find themselves.

Civil rights advocates who have conducted voter registration outreach in jails and prisons say that while the new legislation was needed, practical difficulties and common misunderstandings will continue to limit the ability of eligible voters in prison to actually cast a ballot. The Legislature’s approval of a new absentee voting reason for eligible incarcerated people comes even as some state senators blocked a more sweeping attempt backed by the state House of Representatives to overhaul Missisisppi’s felony disenfranchisement laws and restore voting rights to thousands of people with nonviolent felony convictions. There are currently about 19,000 people held in Mississippi state prison custody, and thousands more held in local jails, but there’s no clear way to determine how many of those people can still vote. Mississippi court records do show that the majority of people convicted of state felony charges in the last 30 years remained eligible to cast a ballot.


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