Roy Harness is a U.S. Army and a National Guard veteran, a recovered drug addict and a Jackson State University student studying for his master’s degree in social work. He has lived through the stress of military life, the depressing depths of addiction, which led to years of homelessness and helplessness—and ultimately a stint in prison for forging a check. “I owed the drug dealer a lot of money. That’s what caused me to write the check,” Harness told the Jackson Free Press. The McComb native says he started using drugs to numb his fear during his military service as well as deal with the pain of his service-related injuries. He went to prison for the forgery in 1986. Harness knew before he was released in 1988 that he had lost his right to vote—he remembers talking about it while he was in prison. “You hear about all this in jail,” he said. “… When I was up in jail, they were letting people out who were able to go vote.”
Mississippi state law on who gets to vote after serving time in MDOC’s custody appears rather arbitrary. Twenty-two disenfranchising crimes are listed in a 2009 attorney general’s opinion that clarifies the law. These crimes range from embezzlement and felony bad check to murder and rape.
Harness and two other Mississippians are now suing the secretary of state over losing their voting rights. The Mississippi Center for Justice filed the lawsuit, arguing that the list of crimes is “the last remaining vestige of the infamous plan by the framers of that (1890) Constitution to rob African Americans of the right to vote that they attained after slavery was abolished in the aftermath of the Civil War.”