Voting should be reserved for law-abiding citizens

Published 8:35 pm Thursday, November 2, 2006

Although far too few people exercise it, voting is a sacred right belonging to all law-abiding citizens.

When citizens become no longer law-abiding, it is necessary to take their voting rights away. Breaking any old law will not result in the loss of voting rights, or suffrage, but the Mississippi Constitution and an Attorney General’s opinion have identified over 20 felonies that will result in disenfranchisement for the offender.

A lawsuit filed earlier this month by the American Civil Liberties Union challenges the AG’s add-on list of disenfranchising crimes — ones like shoplifting, receiving stolen property, robbery, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, statutory rape and carjacking. The organization contends the list should have been legislatively instead of through an AG’s opinion.

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The ACLU is also upset over the permanent loss of voting rights unless an ex-con successfully navigates through a “confusing” legislative process to have their rights restored.

While the ACLU and critics may argue that Mississippi’s suffrage laws are among the most restrictive in the county, others may contend the state is simply putting the emphasis on the importance of being law-abiding citizens — and violation of that trust comes with a cost. Why should a convicted felon — who has broken at least one law serious enough to warrant the loss of his voting rights — have an easy path to voting rights restoration?

Many of the disenfranchising crimes involve the taking of something — be it money, a vehicle or other property, or even a sense of personal security and freedom one had before being the victim of a crime.

In many cases, whatever the victim has lost cannot be regained. In that sense, it is not fair to have a felon’s voting rights, which were taken away as a result of his conviction, returned as if nothing happened.

Fortunately, state lawmakers have found no widespread support for relaxing the voting rights restoration process. That’s the way it should be.

If the ACLU wants legislative action on the AG’s list of disenfranchising crimes, then lawmakers should move to formally approve them.

And once a felon’s voting rights are taken away, they should not be easily restored. That means lawmakers should stay the course and leave other suffrage laws alone.