Bills introduced to examine voting rights

By BILL DENNY,

Last Tuesday, the House passed its first committee deadline. Any general bill or constitutional amendment not passed by 8 p.m. Tuesday is considered dead for the 2018 session. This deadline culls a couple thousand bills down to around a few hundred.

After a successful session last year that saw Mississippi update its entire election code and enact campaign finance reform, the House Apportionment and Elections Committee voted out several bills to continue our efforts to modernize Mississippi’s voting bills.

One such bill is HB 774. This would create a study committee to look at voter enfranchisement for nonviolent felons who have completed their sentence. Currently, there are around 20 crimes that strip a person’s voting rights for the rest of their life. Even when they complete their sentence and pay restitution, they can never vote in Mississippi again. Currently, the only way they can regain that ability is through a 2/3 vote of the House and Senate, and this can only be done on a person-by-person basis. If passed, legislators, public safety officials and the Secretary of State would hopefully come up with and recommend a process by which a nonviolent felon could regain the ability to vote over time. Even if the group recommends such a process, the Legislature would have to vote on it again next year.

Three other election bills provide for minor yet necessary clarifications in our election process. HB 803 would change the number of needed certified poll managers per precinct, and HB 937 would stagger the terms of election commissioners. This is needed so that there is no risk of losing all of one county’s election commissioners (and thus their training and knowledge) at one time. As many counties struggle to fully staff elections currently, it is important that we build systems in place that can preserve institutional knowledge on how to legally run an election.

HB 804 clarifies how a photo ID must be presented during a municipal election. Currently, if a person goes to vote in a municipal election but forgets his/her photo ID, the law calls for the would-be voter to take his/her ID to the circuit clerk (which is normal for a state or federal election) within five days after the election. Because a circuit clerk does not manage a municipal election, it makes sense to clarify that the ID should be taken to the municipal clerk’s office. This would bring the law into conformity with current practice.

While most of this session’s headlines will be dominated by potential changes to the public education funding formula or proposed investments in our transportation infrastructure, I want you to know that the House Apportionment and Elections Committee will continue its longstanding efforts to modernize our election system. Working with Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, I am very proud of the work we continue to do.

As the session progresses, feel free to contact me on any matter that is important to you. Thank you for the honor of serving you in the Mississippi House of Representatives.

Bill Denny (R-Jackson) is State Representative for House District 64, representing parts of Hinds and Madison counties. A member since 1988, Rep. Denny serves as chairman of the Apportionment and Elections Committee and is a member of the Appropriations, Congressional Redistricting, Constitution, Judiciary A, Judiciary En Banc, Legislation Reapportionment and Municipalities committees.

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