In his first term, Gov. Phil Bryant has allowed eight bills to become law without his signature. All have been suffrage bills. Mississippians convicted of certain felonies lose the right to vote. Those who lose their vote have to be pardoned by the governor or go to the Legislature, where it takes a two-thirds majority to restore a person’s suffrage. The Mississippi Constitution lists 21 crimes that take away a convict’s right to vote: arson, armed robbery, bigamy, bribery, embezzlement, extortion, felony bad check, felony shoplifting, forgery, larceny, murder, obtaining money or goods under false pretense, perjury, rape, receiving stolen property, robbery, theft, timber larceny, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, statutory rape and carjacking.
The constitution initially listed 10 crimes that would strip voting rights. Eleven other crimes were added in 2004 based on a state attorney general’s opinion. Other felonies not on the list, such as dealing drugs, don’t affect voting rights.
Nationally, there are millions of released felons whose convictions have cost them the right to vote at least temporarily, if not permanently. To return to the ballot box, felons must negotiate suffrage laws that vary from state to state, in many cases working with election officials who can be both unfamiliar with the law and hostile to former convicts seeking to register.