Our View: Low turnout is proof of Mississippi's failure to update election laws

July 5, 2018 10:27:28 AM



On June 5, just 15 percent of eligible voters went to the polls for the Republican and Democratic party primaries, an embarrassingly low turnout.


Now, as the focus shifts to the Nov. 6 General Election, when Mississippi will chose both U.S. Senators, turn-out is again a subject of great speculation.


The turn-out for that election will certainly eclipse that of June 5, when just 141,000 of 1.9 million registered voters went to the polls. The question is, how many more will turn out?



Based on previous trends, the outlook isn't promising. In each of the last three presidential elections -- elections where turn-outs are at their highest, the total votes cast have fallen. In 2016, almost 90,000 fewer voters turned out than in 2008.


The trend is not surprising. Prior to the 2016 presidential election, Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann proposed a sweeping package of election reforms -- including early-voting and online registration. Those proposals were rejected by the legislature. In states that have adopted early-voting, turn-outs have increased.


But in Mississippi, the status quo still rules.


Another area where the state stubbornly refuses to change its voting rules is allowing felons who have served their sentences to vote.


Data shows that, as of 2016, there were 218,181 felons who have completed their sentences and are not allowed to vote under the state's archaic voting laws. In the 1890 Constitution that ushered in the era of Jim Crow, the legislature listed 10 felonies that carried a lifetime voting restriction -- everything from murder and rape to perjury and theft of timber. Since then, 12 more offenses have been added to the list of those felonies that forever remove a citizen's right to vote.


Meanwhile, legislation to remove those restrictions consistently die in committee each year.


Currently, there are two lawsuits winding their way through the legal system that challenge these lifetime bans on voting, including one by former Columbus City Councilman Kamal Karriem, who lost his voting rights after his conviction for stealing a city cellphone in 2005.


For many, the restriction on voting rights is the last vestige of those Jim Crow laws designed to suppress black voting. Unlike measures such as poll taxes and literacy tests, which were struck down by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Mississippi continues to deny a large portion of its black population the right to vote, even though they have paid their debts to society.


Every year, our politicians make a big deal of how important it is for people to vote. Every year, they ignore any practical measures that would help achieve that goal.


It is far past time to correct this problem. Fairness demands it.