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Felony Convictions Often Lead To Lifetime Voting Bans in Mississippi

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 02 Nov 2012 05:49pm | comments
George Matthews

More than 1-million Mississippians are expected to head to the polls to vote in tomorrow's general election. However, for almost 200-thousand Mississippians voting in nearly all races is not an option. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports on how a felony conviction can turn into a life time voting ban.

You can find George Matthews small south Jackson home by the painting on the tree in his front yard.

"As you seen when you come up in the drive way, you see 'thank you Jesus' out there on that tree. I have a lot to thank him for. For me being alive, to be an ex-convict and to be the in condition that God have blessed my wife and I to be in. That is a lot to give him thanks, you know," Matthews said.

28 years ago when George Matthews was convicted of three counts of armed robbery and sent to prison for 8 and a half years.

"I don't have a sex charge, or a rape charge, or a murder charge. I just have a charge where I went out and took some money. really to be honest with you, it seems like the conviction still rides with me to this very day," Matthew said.

For the last 19 years Matthews has not been convicted of any crime.

In that same time he has cast exactly one vote....a ballot for President Barack Obama in 2008.

"Everything else I can't vote for. I can't vote in this state. My vote don't count. It is like I am not even a person. It is like I can come in your business I can do business with you and you will accept my money but you won't accept me," Matthews said.

Matthews is one of thousands of Mississippians who has lost their right to vote because of a felony conviction.

According to the state constitution, Mississippians convicted of one of 22 different crimes lose their right to vote even after their prison term and probation are finished.

A study by the justice reform group The Sentencing Project, claims that has left 120-thousand Mississippians who are no longer serving their sentence, without the right to vote in any election except voting for president.

Marc Mauer is with the Sentencing Project.

"In Mississippi overall about 1 of every 12 adults in the state will not be eligible to vote. That compares to a national rate of about 1 in every 40," Mauer said.

And, Mauer says, the rate of disenfranchisement is dramatically higher among African-American Mississippians.

"The rate of African Americans is considerable higher, but in Mississippi and around the country. 1 in every 7 black adults will not be eligible to vote in Mississippi," Mauer said.

In addition, Mississippi has a uniquely difficult process for felons to recover their voting rights.

Either the governor can grant an ex-felon suffrage or the state legislature can approve a bill returning their right to vote.

Efforts to change the rules have found little traction in the state legislature.

Senator Kenny Wayne Jones of Canton co-authored a bill with several other African-American senators to restore an ex-felon's voting rights two years after they finish their sentence and probation.

"We can't expect people to just go, do their time for the mistakes they made, come back out here and ask them to be good members of the public and they don't even have the right to vote. That ios why we are going to try and do it because it is the fair thing to do and it is the right thing to do," Jones said.

Supporters of the system argue it creates a way to ensure that an ex-felon is reformed before restoring their right to vote.

The state legislature has restored voting rights to just over 100 ex-felons in the last ten years.

But for many, like ex-felon George Matthews, access to their law maker or the know how to navigate the system is hard to come by.

"I feel like if a man has been out for a long period of time and he has shown society that he is living a law-abiding citizen's life, then I feel like he should be able (to vote). They should take into consideration that, you know, lets give this person another chance," Matthews said.

Matthews says he plans to vote tomorrow, but many ex-felons across the state don't realize that the presidential election is their only chance to cast a vote.

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George Matthews


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