ACLU Files Lawsuit Challenging Voter Disenfranchisement in Mississippi

For Immediate Release

ACLU
Contact: 

ames Freedland, ACLU national, (212) 519-7829 or 549-2666;
media@aclu.org
Sara Cohan, ACLU of Mississippi, (601) 354-3408

ACLU Files Lawsuit Challenging Voter Disenfranchisement in Mississippi

State Unconstitutionally Denying Voting Rights to Citizens With Felony Convictions

JACKSON, Miss. - The
American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Mississippi filed a lawsuit
in federal court today challenging the state's denial of voting rights
to citizens with felony convictions. Although the Mississippi
Constitution permits people who have been convicted of a crime to vote
for president and vice president, election administrators are denying
that right in practice. In today's filings, the ACLU asked the court to
allow these citizens to register to vote in time to cast ballots for
president and vice president this November.

"With the presidential election less
than two months away, Mississippi is denying thousands of citizens
their fundamental right to vote," said Nancy Abudu, staff counsel with
the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "By refusing to allow eligible citizens
to register and vote for the highest offices in the land, Mississippi
election officials are undermining the integrity of the state's
election system and degrading our country's democratic principles. We
will not sit back and let election supervisors continue to violate
state and federal law."

According to Mississippi's
constitution, people with certain felony convictions are allowed to
vote for president and vice president, but not other political offices.
But because the state's voter registration application does not allow
all prospective voters to register for presidential and vice
presidential elections only, many voters are wrongly disqualified. The
ACLU is representing Jerry Young and Christy Colley, two Mississippi
residents who have been convicted of felonies in the past and cannot
vote due to the flawed administration of the state's election laws.

In addition to the state
constitution, Mississippi's voter disenfranchisement practices violate
the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause and the National
Voter Registration Act, which establishes procedures to increase the
number of eligible citizens registered to vote in federal elections.

"I pay my taxes and have paid my
debt to society, I should be given my right to vote," said Young. "This
is a right I take very seriously. I am a citizen of Mississippi and the
United States and I want my voice to be heard this November."

In 2004, Mississippi's secretary of
state unlawfully circumvented the state constitution by amending the
voter registration form and adding a number of felonies to the list of
crimes that disqualifies an individual from voting. The ACLU challenged
the state's interpretation of its felony disenfranchisement laws in
state court and that lawsuit is pending.

"The unlawful disenfranchisement of
thousands of Mississippians is unconscionable. Many of these people
work and pay both state and federal taxes, but they have no voice in
choosing their elected officials, no say in who represents them," said
Kristy Bennett, staff attorney with the ACLU of Mississippi. "Our state
law specifically provides that all people, regardless of whether they
have a felony conviction of any kind, are entitled to vote in elections
for president and vice president. It is obvious that the framers of our
state constitution recognized the importance of allowing all citizens
to vote for the leaders of this country and we must continue to fight
for this fundamental right today."

Attorneys on the case are Abudu,
Laughlin McDonald and Neil Bradley of the ACLU Voting Rights Project
and Bennett of the ACLU of Mississippi.

All of today's legal documents are available online at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/exoffenders/36721res20080912.html

More information on the ACLU Voting Rights Project is available online at: www.votingrights.org

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