After Court Ruling, Thousands of Mississippians Could Get Their Right to Vote

Blue background with shattered pieces in red that detail Mississippi's Jim Crow-era felony disenfranchisement law, Section 241, and the 5th Circuit's strike down of the law. There is a blue-toned fist in the middle of all the shattered pieces.

Today, Mississippians are one step closer to justice thanks to a historic court ruling last month. In early August, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down our state’s long and oppressive history of lifetime felony disenfranchisement laws, which have rendered one in 10 Mississippians ineligible to vote. 

This momentous decision represents a significant advancement in the fight for equal voting rights and civic participation, reaffirming the fundamental principle that every citizen’s voice should be heard and valued.

Felony disenfranchisement laws have had a devastating impact on our communities, perpetuating systemic racism and undermining the principles of democracy. The court’s ruling acknowledges the importance of restoring the full rights and dignity of individuals convicted of certain crimes who have paid their debt to society, giving them a chance to be active participants in shaping the future of their state.

For the past six years, our team at Mississippi Votes has been waking up every day, fighting for the rights of Mississippians to restore their right to vote — and today, we continue our steadfast commitment. 

We encourage all Mississippians who believe they may be impacted by this ruling to take proactive steps to understand their rights and engage in the democratic process. This decision offers a glimmer of hope, but the path forward requires collective action and awareness.

Let us remember that justice is not an abstract concept — it is a lived experience for every individual affected by these laws.

As we celebrate this victory, we must also acknowledge the broader context in which this ruling takes place. The history of felony disenfranchisement in Mississippi is deeply entwined with the state’s dark past of racial discrimination. The roots of these laws can be traced back to the state’s 1890 convention, a deliberate attempt to silence the voices of Black citizens and maintain white supremacy. This ruling not only invalidates a long-standing injustice but also challenges the persistent legacy of systemic racism that continues to affect our society.

Last month’s decision reflects a changing tide in public sentiment, as more people recognize the need for restorative justice and the reintegration of individuals into society after they have served their sentences. The time has come to move away from punitive measures that do little to enhance public safety and instead embrace policies that support rehabilitation, redemption and civic engagement.

However, let us not overlook the challenges that lie ahead. Mississippi’s political landscape is still fraught with obstacles that could impede the realization of the court’s vision. The possibility of an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court looms, and the struggle for voting rights is far from over. Yet, the resilience and determination exhibited by organizations like Mississippi Votes demonstrate the strength of the collective will to effect change.

As we navigate this pivotal moment, Mississippi must consider practical steps to effectively implement the court’s decision by ensuring that individuals who are now eligible to have their voting rights restored are provided with clear information and accessible avenues to do so. The state’s leaders have an essential role to play in this process, by facilitating a smooth transition from disenfranchisement to empowerment.

The fight for equal voting rights is not a partisan endeavor; it is a testament to the democratic values that underpin our nation. This ruling should serve as a reminder that progress is possible when individuals, communities and organizations come together to champion justice. It underscores the idea that our legal system can act as a force for positive change, dismantling unjust structures that have persisted for generations.

In closing, let us remember that justice is not an abstract concept — it is a lived experience for every individual affected by these laws. It is the parent who dreams of a better future for their children, the ex-offender seeking redemption and the community striving for equity. The 5th Circuit’s ruling is both a triumph and a call to action. By embracing the spirit of this decision, Mississippi can begin to heal the wounds of history and move toward a brighter, more democratic future for all its citizens.

Arekia S. Bennett-Scott is the executive director of Mississippi Votes.