October 17, 2016 – Federal judges all over the nation have caught on to GOP efforts to restrict minority voting. Legislators in Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, and Mississippi, among other states, immediately rammed through laws imposing new voting restrictions after the conservative bloc of the Supreme Court rolled back Voting Rights Act protections in its Shelby County v. Holder decision. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in July that North Carolina’s restrictive voting laws, enacted in 2013, were created with “discriminatory intent,” using almost “surgical precision” against African Americans.
The South Carolina legislature did away with one of two days of Sunday voting, arguing that counties with Sunday voting were “disproportionately black.” The state even argued that African Americans, “who had overwhelmingly voted for Democrats, had too much access to the franchise” of democracy – providing as close to a smoking gun for racist anti-democratic examples as the district court was likely ever to see in modern times.
Then, in New Orleans, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in July that a new Texas voter ID law violated the Voting Rights Act by requiring the showing of a driver’s license, passport, military ID, or gun permit. The court acknowledged that whites would be more likely to own such identification than blacks. The court demanded that Texas expand the limited forms of acceptable identification, but Texas has already fouled that effort, according to the court, by continuing to mislead voters. The court ordered Texas to allow people who do not own one of the accepted forms of identification to cast a regular ballot, but the state instead told voters that they still would not be able to vote without the restrictive forms of identification. The Justice Department immediately warned the state that it was violating a court order.
These recent reversals only mitigate a small portion of what amounts to centuries of voter disfranchisement against minorities, however. In Mississippi, whites spent the majority of the state’s history raising impassable roadblocks to keep black people from electing leaders. Even after the eradication of state-sanctioned slavery, whites managed to impose voter restrictions such as property qualifications demanding the ownership of $300 or more in real estate or personal assets, before allowing a vote. Mississippi also imposed poll taxes and a literacy test that very few Mississippi whites could even hope to pass.
The laws unquestionably existed to keep black and brown people out of politics and maintain a powerless working underclass. During Virginia’s 1901-1902 Constitutional Convention, segregationist Sen. Carter Glass lauded these Jim Crow laws, saying: “This plan … will eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this state in less than five years, so that in no single county … will there be the least concern felt for the supremacy of the white race in the affairs of government.”
Sadly, one of Sen. Glass’s approved methods to exclude blacks from democracy remains largely unchallenged, even today: felony disfranchisement.
The Mississippi Constitution of 1890 – created with significant animosity toward blacks – initially listed nine crimes that would strip voting rights, but an Attorney General’s opinion in 2009 increased that to 22 crimes. Mississippi’s voter registration form now disallows voting by anyone convicted of arson, armed robbery, bigamy, bribery, carjacking, embezzlement, extortion, felony bad check, felony shoplifting, forgery, larceny, larceny under a lease or rental agreement, murder, obtaining money or goods under false pretense, perjury, rape, receiving stolen property, robbery, statutory rape, theft, timber larceny, and unlawful taking of a motor vehicle. Voting rights can only be restored to an individual by legislation or action by the Governor.
Getting convicted of any of these crimes will disqualify you to vote in the state of Mississippi for the rest of your life, long after you’ve paid your fine and done your time in prison. While some are crimes of passion, whites designed most of them to be money-related, so as to capture more impoverished and desperate blacks in the net. U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate specifically cited the 1896 Mississippi Supreme Court while assessing the case McLaughlin v. City of Canton in 1995:
“[The black] race had acquired or accentuated certain particularities of habit, of temperament and of character, which clearly distinguished it, as a race, from that of the whites – a patient, docile people, but careless, landless, and migratory within narrow limits, without forethought, and its criminal members given rather to furtive offenses than to the robust crimes of the whites (such as murder). Restrained by the federal constitution from discriminating against the negro race, the  convention discriminated against its characteristics and the offenses to which its weaker members were prone,” Wingate quoted.
That racist political convention, designed specifically to keep blacks from voting, still routinely kicks in whenever an impoverished mother writes a bad check for baby food. Former Hinds County District Attorney Faye Peterson and current DA Robert Shuler Smith (both black) used discretion when prosecuting bad check crimes because of the disfranchisement issue that came with it, but their impact was apparently minimal. Now, thanks to the embellished law, blacks account for nearly 60 percent of the 182,000 Mississippi citizens who can’t vote without explicit permission from the governor or legislature. That’s more people than live in Jackson, the state’s most heavily populated city.
Politicos and researchers are convinced that this Jim Crow holdout endures because Republican politicians know a good tool when they see one. Almost 14 percent of the African-American Mississippi population is restricted from voting due to legal problems. Blacks, who usually vote Democratic, suffer an incarceration rate that is six times the national average. In Mississippi, the black incarceration rate is three blacks for every one white prisoner, according to the fairness in justice non-profit The Sentencing Project.
These figures are an abomination to organizations like the MS NAACP and the Mississippi ACLU, in particular.
“No person who commits a non-violent offense should have their suffrage rights taken away. At the very least, their rights should be restored immediately after they have served their sentence,” said Erik Fleming, Advocacy and Policy Director for the Mississippi ACLU. “It’s a step toward their being productive citizens and would help to reduce their chances of going back to prison.”
Fleming added that he found it “amazing” that manslaughter is not on the list of disfranchising offenses, while selling bootlegged music CD’s out of the back of a truck obviously is.