JACKSON — Gov. Phil Bryant has signed bills to restore the voting rights of three people convicted of felonies.
In Mississippi, the only way to restore the right to vote after a a felony conviction is through the Legislature passing a suffrage bill. Only three people were approved to have their voting rights restored this year.
Donald F. Jones of Gulfport, who was convicted of grand larceny in Wayne County in 1978, was one of the three.
“I’m 63 and have never voted in my life. Voting and the political process had been of no concern to me since I couldn’t vote, but it will be now,” Jones told The Clarion-Ledger.
Jones said he doesn’t know yet when he will cast his first vote in an election. He said he only recently learned about the process of having the right restored.
State Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, D-Gulfport, said she was proud to file the bill to restore Jones’ right to vote.
“He came to me and requested it,” Williams-Barnes said. “I think people should have the right to vote after serving their debt to society. The right to vote is important to me and has always been important in my upbringing. I hope one day that we allow some of those convicted of felonies to have their right to vote restored automatically after serving their sentence.”
In addition to Jones, the Legislature restored the right to vote to Michael Todd Manual of Rankin County, who was convicted of embezzlement in Forrest County in 1999, and Randall Lamar Bolton of Panola County, who was convicted of grand larceny in 1980.
Lawmakers have from time to time introduced legislation to amend the Mississippi Constitution either to ban all felons from voting or to restore suffrage automatically for first felony conviction upon completion of sentence.
The bills have gone nowhere, but the debate continues.
The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit group, says an estimated 5.85 million people nationwide can’t vote because of felony convictions.