'Inclusive Democracy Act' would expand ballot access for people in prison

Mississippians may register to vote by mail or in-person but the deadline for mail-in registration requires it to be postmarked 30 days before Election Day. (rawpixel.com/Adobe Stock)

In Mississippi, 27,000 people are incarcerated and legislation now in Congress might let them cast their ballots from behind bars.

The nonprofit Common Cause helped to create the National Voting in Prison Coalition.

Keshia Morris Desir, justice and mass incarceration project manager for the group, explained the bill, known as the Inclusive Democracy Act, would restore the right to vote in federal elections for individuals who are incarcerated or on probation and parole.

"What that does is help to disenfranchise the 4.6 million individuals that currently do not have access to the ballot box in federal elections," Morris Desir explained.

Under current state law, Mississippians' right to vote is permanently revoked if they're convicted of one of 23 serious crimes outlined in the law. During periods of incarceration, probation or parole, people also are ineligible to vote in the state. Voting rights can only be restored through action by the governor, or passage of a bill in the Legislature.

Morris Desir noted Maine and Vermont allow people who are incarcerated to vote, as does Washington, D.C. She added a national poll reveals widespread support for maintaining people's voting rights.

"More than 50% of people across the United States support voting for currently incarcerated folks," Morris Desir pointed out. "People across the country know that, you know, just because you made a mistake in your past and you have a criminal conviction does not exclude you from citizenship and your right to vote."

She added the bill would allow voting access only for federal offices -- like president and members of Congress -- but it would not affect state elections unless a state already allows it. Those with restricted voting rights in the state would not have their ballots counted in local elections.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Danielle Smith, Producer

Thursday December 14, 2023