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Bills would ease early voting and online voter registration

Proposals to expand access to early voting and to create online registration for first-time voters are advancing at the Mississippi Capitol.

So is a plan that could eventually simplify the process of restoring voting rights for people who served time for nonviolent felonies.

All three bills passed the House Elections Committee on Monday and move to the full House for more debate.

House Bill 228 would allow no-excuses in-person early voting, starting 14 days before an election. Current law only lets people vote early if they will be out of town Election Day.

House Bill 373 would authorize online, first-time voter registration for people with a valid Mississippi driver’s license.

House Bill 1054 would create a group to study restoration of voting rights for people convicted of nonviolent felonies such as forgery or receiving stolen property. Advocates of change say the current process of restoring the rights is cumbersome: An ex-convict must ask a legislator to sponsor a bill, and it must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the state House and Senate. The numbers of those bills were never large, and they have dwindled to just a few each year.

The study group would consist of lawmakers, a judge, a prosecutor, a public defender and a person appointed by state corrections commissioner — people who know how the criminal justice system works. They would make recommendations for lawmakers to consider in 2018.

Rep. Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville, said Monday that the large study group is “overkill.”

Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, said every person on the study committee represents a group that must be willing to accept a change in the process if it is to be successful.

“If we don’t do this, I guarantee we’ll be here five years from now with this same issue,” Barker said.

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