Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves vetoed a bill that would automatically restore voting rights to those who lost them as a result of a constitutional provision penned to disenfranchise Black would-be voters in the Jim Crow era, according to Mississippi Today.
House Judiciary Chair Nick Bain, a Republican legislator, actually drafted the bill the Republican governor has refused to back. Bain told Mississippi Today that courts are already restoring voting rights to people who have had their criminal records expunged and that his bill just "clarified" that judges should be doing so.
That, however, is not how Reeves apparently sees the change. As he put it in a tweet on Friday: “I have vetoed two bills—automatically returning voting rights to criminals and weakening the state’s ethics commission.”
RELATED STORY: Jim Crow-era law to guard against 'negro rule' still making criminals of black N.C. voters
The second bill Reeves mentioned, Senate bill No. 2306, would give the Mississippi secretary of state the ability to assess fines to a politician or political committee that failed to make the proper campaign finance disclosure, according to the SuperTalk Mississippi radio network. That power currently rests with the Mississippi Ethics Commission.
“I believed then, as I believe now, that the assessment of penalties for violations of campaign finance disclosure laws should be made by an appointed public body not subject to such laws, as opposed to a single elected official who is subject to such laws,” Reeves reportedly stated in his veto message.
Regarding the proposed voting rights legislation, Senate bill No. 2536, he wrote:
Felony disenfranchisement is an animating principle of the social contract at the heart of every great republic dating back to the founding of ancient Greece and Rome.
In America, such laws date back to the colonies and the eventual founding of our Republic. Since statehood, in one form or another, Mississippi law has recognized felony disenfranchisement.
In filmmaker Ava DuVernay's 2016 documentary 13th, she portrayed the prison system in America as a natural continuation of slavery following the 13th Amendment, which made slavery unconstitutional in 1865 for all people—except those convicted of crimes. “If you have that embedded in the structure, in this constitutional language, then it's there to be used as a tool for whichever purposes one wants to use it," author Kevin Gannon said in the documentary.
Disenfranchisement has certainly been a popular tool, especially targeting the formerly incarcerated.
People convicted of felonies lose the right to vote at least temporarily in every state except Maine and Vermont. Mississippi is one of 11 states that require additional actions after the completion of any jail time and added waiting periods for a formerly incarcerated person to have their right to vote restored, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The organization cited state law in explaining exactly how the rights of Mississippians are stripped from them when they are incarcerated:
A person convicted of murder, rape, bribery, theft, arson, obtaining money or goods under false pretense, perjury, forgery, embezzlement or bigamy is no longer considered a qualified elector” (Miss. Const. Art. 12, § 241). If an individual hasn’t committed one of these offenses, rights are automatically restored. If an individual has been convicted of one of these, he or she can still receive a pardon from the governor to restore voting rights (Miss. Code Ann. § 47-7-41) or by a two-thirds vote of both houses of the legislature (Miss. Const. Art. 12, § 253).
Mississippi Today writer Bobby Harrison wrote that Mississippi has never allowed the public to vote on a less convoluted process to restore voting rights, and the news service found in 2018 that Black Mississippians represent 61% of those who have been disenfranchised, although they only represent 38% of the state's population that is of voting age.
“It will be up to the Senate leadership to decide whether to try to overturn the gubernatorial veto during the 2023 session,” Harrison wrote.
RELATED STORY: 'Slavery, that wretched institution, shaped the Capitol,' Booker says. It shaped the country