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Gov. Reeves vetoes four felony voting restoration bills, yet signs two into law for first time

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Gov. Reeves vetoes four felony voting restoration bills, yet signs two into law for first time

May 15, 2024 | 7:34 am ET
By Taylor Vance
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Gov. Reeves vetoes four felony voting restoration bills, yet signs two into law for first time
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Gov. Tate Reeves, center, speaks to House Speaker Jason White, left, and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann after giving his State of the State address in the House chamber at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Monday, Feb. 26, 2024.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves on Monday night vetoed a handful of bills that would have restored voting rights to four people who had completed the terms of their prison sentences for grand larceny and burglary convictions. 

But Reeves, who has never approved of a suffrage restoration bill since taking office in 2020, signed two measures into law that restored suffrage for two people. He also allowed 12 other suffrage restoration bills to become law without his signature, which is his usual practice.

It’s unclear why the second-term governor made the unusual decision to approve suffrage bills for the first time, let others become law without his signature, and vetoed others.  

READ MORE: ‘If you can’t vote, you’re nobody:’ Lawmakers hear from rehabilitated felons who still can’t exercise right

His office did not respond to a request for comment about his actions on the bills. He also did not attach a message to his four vetoes, despite the state constitution’s requirement that the governor return any vetoed bills to the Legislature “with his objections.” 

The governor’s veto means that the four people will, at least for now, be unable to vote in any election despite an overwhelming majority of the Legislature choosing to restore their suffrage.  

The Legislature could attempt to override the governor’s veto, but it would be extremely unlikely. It takes a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers to override a governor’s veto, and the Legislature has not overridden a gubernatorial veto over suffrage measures in recent years. 

House Speaker Jason White, a Republican from West, and Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, the leader of the Senate, decided on Monday evening that the Legislature will not convene on Tuesday to override any of Reeves’ vetoes. 

Under the Mississippi Constitution, people convicted of any of 10 felonies — including perjury, arson and bigamy — lose their voting rights for life. Opinions from the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office have since expanded the list of disenfranchising felonies to 24. 

The practice of stripping voting rights away from people for life is a holdover from the Jim Crow era because the framers of the 1890 constitution believed the people most likely to commit those crimes were Black people. 

About 55,000 names are on the Secretary of State’s voter disenfranchisement list as of March 19. The list, provided to Mississippi Today through a public records request, goes back to 1992 for felony convictions in state court. 

The state constitution grants lawmakers the power to restore suffrage to citizens, but the process is arduous. It necessitates a two-thirds majority vote in both legislative chambers to favor restoring suffrage in individual cases, a challenging task.

The House overwhelmingly passed a proposal this year that would have automatically restored voting rights to people convicted of nonviolent felony crimes, but Senate Constitution Committee Chairwoman Angela Burks Hill, a Republican from Picayune, killed it without bringing it up for debate.  

After Hill killed the House proposal, lawmakers were forced to continue to restore suffrage piecemeal to individuals.

Hosemann, who appointed Hill to chair the committee, told reporters in May that he believes people should regain their suffrage if they were convicted of a nonviolent crime and after completing the terms of their prison sentence. 

But the thinks senators would have balked at the House’s overhaul proposal because they like to consider each individual suffrage bill.  

“Just giving a blanket is pretty hard,” Hosemann said. “I think senators want to vote individually.” 

A federal appeals court is also considering litigation brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center, contending that the state’s lifetime voting ban on certain felony offenses violates the 8th Amendment’s protection from cruel and unusual punishment. 

In August, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, agreed with the plaintiffs and found that the lifetime voting ban violates the  U.S. Constitution.

But the full panel of the court, known for its conservative rulings, vacated the decision of the three-judge panel and asked for a rehearing among all of the court’s members. It is not known when the full panel – about 20 judges — will rule on the issue. But the full panel’s ruling will likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.