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Mississippi wants to overturn ruling that allows formerly incarcerated felons to vote


A federal court ruling earlier this month would allow as many as 30,000 formerly incarcerated people who were convicted of felonies to regain their voting rights in Mississippi. But as Mississippi Public Broadcasting's Michael McEwan reports, the state is looking to overturn that decision on appeal.

MICHAEL MCEWAN, BYLINE: Mississippians convicted of any one of 22 felonies are prohibited from voting even after completing their sentences. Veronica Bilbo was previously convicted of a qualifying felony and has been released but barred from voting for four years.

VERONICA BILBO: It's what we think of as a fundamental right, you know, as a citizen. And then to have that taken away when you've done your time, you've been productive, you had zero recidivism, and then, you know, as a Black woman, knowing the price was paid for us to be able to go and vote, then to find out we can't, it's, like, eternal punishment.

MCEWAN: Earlier this month, a three-judge panel said the Mississippi law was cruel and unusual punishment and in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The majority said Mississippi stands as an outlier among other states that maintain lifetime felon voting bans. In 1974, the last time the U.S. Supreme Court considered the constitutional standing of such laws, 32 states had them. Today, the number is less than half that.

JON YOUNGWOOD: That's frankly very much the argument we made to the court.

MCEWAN: Attorney Jon Youngwood represented six Mississippians who had had their voting rights stripped.

YOUNGWOOD: The last time the Supreme Court had a case on this issue, the status of the laws in the country were very, very different. The vast majority of states would not permit a former felon to vote. There is now a growing consensus and a firm consensus in the country that forbidding people to vote for the rest of their lives for a crime they commit when they're very young is not appropriate.

MCEWAN: The state of Mississippi has now appealed the decision, arguing it would, quote, "inflict profound damage and widespread confusion." They want the full Fifth Circuit Court to rule. The earlier three-judge panel feature two Democratic nominees, but the full court is often thought of as one of the most conservative in the country. That has cast doubt over the ruling's future. For NPR News, I'm Michael McEwan in Jackson, Miss. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Michael McEwen