The success of Amendment 4, Florida’s 2018 initiative to expand voting rights, may have boosted efforts to reform felony
disenfranchisement nationwide. But Mississippi’s Republican lawmakers were ultimately unmoved. The last of the rights restoration billsthat was still standing in Mississippi’s legislative session died last week.
This also killed the possibility that 2019 might bring legislative reform to a state that permanently disenfranchises nearly 10 percent of its voting-age population.
With the legislative path sidelined once more, what are the prospects and obstacles for the state to emulate Florida in pursuing a popular initiative?
Mississippi advocates to whom I asked this question mentioned an arduous qualifying process and a need for national attention and funding, among other factors. They also emphasized that they would support such an effort and believed it could succeed. “The will of the public is there, our lawmakers are just not paying attention to what the citizens want,” said Nsombi Lambright, executive director of the Jackson-based civic engagement organization One Voice. A statewide poll, conducted by Tulchin Research and released by the Southern Poverty Law Center in January, found that 68 percent of registered voters support a reform similar to Amendment 4, which curtailed the lifetime nature of disenfranchisement in Florida by allowing people to regain their voting rights once they complete a sentence for most felony convictions.
Reforming Mississippi’s system in a manner similar to Florida would require amending the state constitution, a step that must be approved by the state’s already-enfranchised residents.