Our View: Many felons deserve easier path to restoring voting rights

October 11, 2017 11:14:26 AM

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Tonight at 6 at the Level III nightclub on Main Street in Starkville, Mississippi District 38 congressional candidate Cheikh Taylor will host the third annual Expungement Forum. 

 

The forum will provide information to help felons have their criminal record expunged, which restores many of the rights forfeited when a person is convicted of a felony in Mississippi. 

 

Among those rights is the right to vote in elections. 

 

In 38 states, those convicted of felonies automatically have their voting rights restored automatically at some point. In Maine and Vermont, those convicted of a felony retain their voting rights even while incarcerated. 

 

Mississippi is among eight states where a person can have voting rights restored only through the courts or governor's action. 

 

In Mississippi, some offenses make a person ineligible to ever have voting rights restored. Of those 21 felonies, only a third can be considered violent crimes. Most are property crimes. 

 

Felony bad check and shoplifting earns a lifetime ban from the voting booth. So does perjury, bigamy and - most bizarre of all - timber larceny. 

 

Our criminal justice system is based on the idea of rehabilitation. Unless they received life imprisonment or a death sentence, an offender who has paid his debt to society can return to live among us and become a productive citizen. 

 

This idea appeals to our belief in "second chances" and also makes common sense. It is in the community's best interest that those who are returned to our society have the opportunity to become good, law-abiding, tax-paying citizens. When a former prisoner cannot attain housing or a job, he becomes a net drag on our community and the potential for that person to commit more crimes rises dramatically. Public safety relies, to some extent, on how we treat these ex-offenders. 

 

We should all want these people to redeem themselves and be good citizens. Part of being a good citizen is participating in our government through the act of voting. 

 

The opportunity to play an active role in our government through the vote is something that many groups of people -- women, blacks, young people -- have fought for, sometimes for decades. Americans recognize the power of the ballot. 

 

Yet in Mississippi, voter turnout lags behind the national average. 

 

In 2016, Mississippi ranked 43rd in the percentage of eligible voters who cast ballots in the national election (54.6 percent), almost five percent below the national average. 

 

Given that degree of indifference, we should make sure that every person who wants to vote and meets the general requirements, be afforded that opportunity. 

 

We believe our legislature should join the 41 other states that automatically restore voting rights to ex-felons. 

 

As it stands now, even those who are permitted to regain their voting rights face unnecessary barriers - including court filing fees, which is tantamount to a poll tax. 

 

Until our legislature takes a more enlightened approach to this issue, events such as tonight's forum in Starkville are the next best step in helping redeem and restore those who had paid the price for their crimes and want to be contributing members of society. 

 

No decent person should stand in the way of that effort.