Posts Tagged ‘Voting Rights’

No Suffrage Restoration in 2016

Monday, April 25th, 2016

It’s time for my annual look at legislative restoration of suffrage rights. In 2004, 37 legislators authored 48 bills to restore voting rights to individuals and 35 of those made it through the legislative process to approval. This year only 2 legislators authored 2 bills and neither made it through the process.

Since 2004, 94 Mississippians have had their suffrage rights restored by the legislature. During Governor Phil Bryant’s administration (2012 till now), suffrage restoration has been fully an act of the legislature; passing without his signature (although while Bryant served as Lieutenant Governor, 21 suffrage rights measures passed.)

(Past posts on this issue from 2012, 2013 and 2015.)

Here is a chart tracking the number of bills filed, the number of legislators introducing the bills and the number of measures which made it through final approval.

Legislature passes 4 suffrage bills

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

Today the Senate passed four restoration of suffrage bills already passed by the House.

Under the federal system, a legislation must be signed by the President to become law. Not signing it is called the pocket veto. Under Mississippi’s system, it is just the opposite: legislation becomes law unless the governor vetoes it. If he does nothing, it becomes law without him.

That is what has happened with the previous suffrage bills passed under Governor Phil Bryant: 1 in 2013 and 3 in 2014. Essentially, that makes these particular restoration of suffrage rights bills entirely an act of the legislature with the executive giving neither approval nor disapproval. (While Bryant served as Lt. Gov., 21 suffrage rights measures passed.)

I’ve looked at suffrage bills over the years, particularly interested in whether the uproar over former Governor Haley Barbour’s pardons impacted the introduction or approval of these measures (post from 2012 & post from 2013). Over the past 11 years, 90 Mississippians have had their suffrage rights restored by the legislature.

Here is a chart tracking the number of bills filed, the number of legislators making these requests and the number of bills approved from the 2004 session through the 2014 session. I haven’t added the 5 bills submitted, 4 legislators making requests and 4 bills pending approval from this year.

Thompson’s animus attack on Barbour

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Congressman Bennie Thompson criticized former Governor Haley Barbour’s recent opinion piece in USA Today. Barbour wrote about racial changes in the South and Mississippi and bragged on Mississippi.

In Thompson’s response in today’s Clarion Ledger, he took several shots at Barbour. I thought I’d mention a few of them.

Thompson wrote:

Even after the [Voting Rights Act] was approved in 1965, white politicians in our state have used redistricting to deny blacks the opportunity to hold office.

I’m sure in the past fifty years that has been true. Most of that time, those “white politicians” were Democrats. But if we’re talking about how things have changed, we can look at last year when under Republican leadership, redistricting was used to increase the number of majority black Senate districts from 12 seats to 15 seats.

Thompson wrote:

In addition, not one of the black elected officials he raves about is a Republican, nor did he endorse any of them for municipal, county, state or federal office.

Yvonne Brown, the former black Republican mayor of Tchula, ran against Bennie Thompson. He might not want to remember her. Haley Barbour supported her. In Mississippi, Barbour supported a black Republican in a primary against a white Republican. I could make a list of black Republicans supported by Barbour for office in Mississippi (some others beside Brown who have run against Thompson).

Part of Thompson’s point is well taken. Speaking as a Republican, we need more black Republicans elected in Mississippi. And if Thompson’s claim is true, that no currently elected blacks in Mississippi are Republican (and I think he is right), then likely that is the reason Barbour did not endorse them. Not because they’re black; but because they’re not Republicans. I wouldn’t expect Congressman Thompson to go around endorsing white Republicans either. Heck, just this year in Canton and Jackson, Thompson attacked black Democrats because he thought Republicans were supporting them. So following Thompson’s political moves, if Barbour had endorsed a black Democrat for office, Thompson likely would have used that to attack that black Democrat.

Thompson wrote:

I do, however, recall the then-governor’s support for Judge Charles Pickering’s nomination to the Fifth Circuit — a move opposed by every major civil rights organization and ultimately rejected by the U.S. Senate.

Actually, the “then-governor” who supported Pickering’s nomination was Democrat Ronnie Musgrove. Barbour had not yet been elected.  I also recall that civil rights activist Charles Evers, brother of slain NAACP leader Medgar Evers, also supported Judge Charles Pickering’s nomination to the Fifth Circuit (Evers challenged Thompson to discuss which of them had been involved in civil rights work longer). Others, including then chairman of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus Philip West (later mayor of Natchez) also came out to support Pickering. I won’t go into a list of Pickering supporters, or the behind the scenes intrigue involving Thompson (it is in Pickering’s book: A Price Too High) who at one point, according to the book, said he could support Pickering but “he needed something.” Also, the U.S. Senate never rejected the nomination; it refused to vote on it despite Pickering’s majority support (Democrats filibustered consideration).

Thompson closed his response writing:

There is a public record that does not lend itself to revisionism.

Truth. Thompson also has a public record which includes radio commercials in Democratic Primaries saying things like, “Now the Republicans have hand-picked candidates in every race. They can’t win out-right, so they picked people who look like US to run” and “When I see Republicans from Rankin and Madison County supporting the other so-called Democrat in this race, I know that something is fishy.”

Barbour closed his piece by writing:

Political change in Mississippi and the South has been ubiquitous, and everyone is better off for it. Yet we must admit that that doesn’t mean there are no racial problems or no racism. To expect there will never be any racial discrimination in the South or anywhere else is unrealistic. And racial animus can cut both ways.


Thoughts on VRA & agreeing with Obama

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

“Today’s Supreme Court decision on the #VRA is a setback, but it does not mean the end of our efforts to stop voting discrimination.” - @BarackObama

President Barack Obama is correct that today’s Supreme Court Decision on the Voting Rights Act “does not mean the end of our efforts to stop voting discrimination.” Mainly because it is Section 2 of the VRA which forbids voter discrimination. Lyle Denniston explains at SCOTUS Blog:

** Section 2, which the Court said was affected “in no way” by the decision, applies permanently to every state and local government across the nation, forbidding discrimination in voting, but the government or a private challenger must prove that in each case, one at a time.

What it does mean is that now if a county is notified that a polling location is in disrepair (for example, burned down), they can move the polling location across the street without first getting permission from the Department of Justice. And if voters or the government believe it is actually a nefarious plot to suppress voters, that decision can still be challenged. And according to Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, it means:

“The process for implementation of Constitutional Voter Identification begins today. It will be conducted in accordance with the Constitutional Amendment adopted by the electorate, funded by the Legislature, and regulations as proposed by the Secretary of State.”

Hosemann said Voter-ID should be in place by mid-2014.

It means a lot more in between routine and practical election matters and the implementation of a state Constitutional amendment. Just so far in June of this year, the Department of Justice issued notice under Section 4 & 5 of the Voting Rights Act on 16 different cases in Mississippi involving Bolivar, Carroll, Calhoun, Perry, Rankin, Tishomingo, Harrison, Pike and Hinds counties.

But to President Obama’s point, it does not mean voter discrimination can be allowed. Antics like those by Ike Brown in Noxubee County were prosecuted by the Department of Justice under Section 2 of the VRA.

Mississippi’s lone Democratic congressman, the Second District’s Bennie Thompson, piled on to the hysteria saying in a statement, “Today’s Supreme Court decision will make it harder for many Americans to exercise their Constitutionally-guaranteed right to vote.” Not true. Either that was already happening but more slowly (not enacted until pre-cleared, but enacted afterward), or voters will have the same protection from the Courts they have always enjoyed.

Essentially, today’s decision says Congress might find a way to require areas to submit election changes to the U.S. Department of Justice for review and approval, but the current method (using 50 year old data) does not work. It does not touch any person’s right to vote or curtail access to the Courts for policies that might impact voting. Or in the words of the decision:

“The [15th] Amendment is not designed to punish for the past; its purpose is to ensure a better future…To serve that purpose, Congress — if it is to divide the States — must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions. It cannot rely simply on the past.”

Legislative Restoration of Rights in Post-Barbour Pardons Session

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Last year I wondered if there was any impact of the controversy resulting from Governor Haley Barbour’s pardons on legislative action to return suffrage to those convicted of a felony crime: Did Barbour pardons impact legislative suffrage bills?

Looking back over the legislative sessions during the Barbour Administration I noted a decline in such legislation but no substantial impact in 2012 following the pardons.  The year following his pardons had nearly the same number of suffrage restoration bills and legislators sponsoring them as the year before his pardons, except there were no successfully passed and approved suffrage bills post-pardons and six pre-pardons (but there were also no successfully passed and approved suffrage bills in 2009, two years before his pardons).

I won’t restate the entire post from last year, you can go back and look at it, but here is are the updated numbers and chart with 2013’s legislative session included:

Year - Bills - Legislators - Approved
2004 - 48 - 37 - 35
2005 - 24 - 20 - 13
2006 - 16 - 12 - 07
2007 - 28 - 20 - 10
2008 - 27 - 21 - 08
2009 - 20 - 17 - 00
2010 - 08 - 07 - 07
2011 - 10 - 09 - 06
2012 - 10 - 08 - 00
2013 - 08 - 07 - 01

Here are details on the bills introduced in 2013:

HB1601 by Lester Carpenter (R) - James Lee Dunn (Alcorn County) Receiving Stolen Property - Died in Committee

HB1602 by Bill Pigott (R) - Joseph Herring (Lamar County) Embezzlement - Died in Committee

HB1603 by Nolan Mettetal (R) - Randall Lamar Bolton (Panola County) Grand Larceny - Died in Committee

HB1608 by Bill Pigott (R) - Ashley Harvey (Walthall County) Receiving Stolen Property - Died in Committee

HB1609 by Randall Patterson (D) - Michael Timothy Wood, Sr. (Jackson County) Grand Larceny - Died in Committee

HB1703 by Clara Burnett (D) - Jessie Mae Dotson (Tunica County) Uttering Forgery - Passed and Approved without Governor’s Signature* (House Vote - Senate Vote)

HB1704 by Preston Sullivan (D) - Charles L. Bone (Chickasaw County) Theft - Died in Committee

HB1724 by Steve Holland (D) - Terry Lee Bates (Lee County) Theft - Died in Committee

I’m not critical of these legislators.  While I don’t know the circumstances of each case, I believe in redemption and believe the opportunity for mercy and grace exists in the public sector through the due process of law in all three branches of our government including legislative restoration of rights and executive pardons. This information is a somewhat dispassionate look at the facts.

I would note that three of the loudest Democratic critics of Governor Barbour’s pardons - Bobby Moak, David Baria, Earle Banks - all voted for restoration of rights in the one bill which was approved this past session. To be fair, “uttering forgery” and “murder” are not the same, but the criticisms against Barbour’s pardons were not directed only at the worst crimes. Barbour was criticized in general for his actions which included pardons for “uttering forgery” - the crime behind the restoration of rights bill that Moak, Baria and Banks voted for last session.

*You may remember from civics class that the when a bill is passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, the President of the United States may sign it, veto it, or do nothing and the act dies (pocket veto). In Mississippi, the final option is reversed. A governor may sign it, veto it, or do nothing and the act passes. That is what happened in this case. It became approved without Governor Phil Bryant’s signature.

Did Barbour pardons impact legislative suffrage bills?

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Following the uproar over Governor Haley Barbour’s pardons, I decided to take a look at the number of bills passed by the legislature this year returning suffrage rights to convicted felons to see if there was a significant drop from recent years. No suffrage restoration bills passed this year; but none passed in 2009 either. Only 10 bills were introduced this year, but only 8 bills were introduced in 2010. And only 8 legislators introduced bills this year, but only 7 introduced bills in 2010. In fact, we’ve seen a steady decline in Mississippi of suffrage restoration activity in the legislature since 37 legislators introduced 48 bills with 35 passing and receiving gubernatorial approval back in 2004.

Pardons by a governor and restoration of suffrage rights through the legislature with gubernatorial approval are very different things. Most of the pardons granted by Barbour went to people who had already served their time and were conducting themselves as ‘law-abiding and honorable citizens in a good and lawful manner’ (to use a phrase the legislature uses in their suffrage restoration bills). A pardon wipes away the conviction; the restoration of suffrage does only restores the right to vote to a convicted felon who has otherwise fulfilled the punishment of his sentence.

Still, some might argue restoring the right to vote to a convicted felon is soft on crime. After the public outcry on the pardons, legislators who view themselves as tough on crime might not wish to pursue the restoration of rights. Whether that was the case this year is hard to say as the numbers follow the recent trend lines.

Legislative Suffrage Data in Mississippi 2004-2012

Legislative Suffrage Data in Mississippi 2004-2012

Year - Bills - Legislators - Approved
2004 - 48 - 37 - 35
2005 - 24 - 20 - 13
2006 - 16 - 12 - 07
2007 - 28 - 20 - 10
2008 - 27 - 21 - 08
2009 - 20 - 17 - 00
2010 - 08 - 07 - 07
2011 - 10 - 09 - 06
2012 - 10 - 08 - 00

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