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Who Can and Can’t Vote in Mississippi: A Guide to the State’s Lifetime Voting Ban

This guide offers details about the state’s disenfranchisement laws and how you may still be able to vote from jail, even with a conviction.

An illustration of a Black man standing on one side of a scale, reaching up toward a ballot box on the other end of the scale.

For more than a century, Mississippi has imposed a lifetime voting ban on people convicted of various offenses, including arson, forgery and bigamy. Called “disenfranchisement,” the removal of a citizen’s right to vote through conviction is rooted in the state’s 1890 constitution.

The constitution’s drafters freely admitted that the disenfranchisement clause targeted Black voters to reduce their political power following the end of Reconstruction. The list of offenses has expanded over the years.

For many, the disenfranchisement laws can be confusing. Contact your county’s election administrator to determine if you can vote or register to vote based on your conviction.

Now, for the first time in over a decade, a bipartisan group of legislators wants to restore voting rights to thousands of state citizens, with the conservative leadership of the state House of Representatives backing the effort.

Also, multiple lawsuits in recent years in federal court sought to overturn disenfranchisement, so far without success.

This article was published in partnership with Mississippi Today.

An estimated 50,000 people from 1994 through 2017 have lost their voting rights through conviction in state court, according to a 2018 study commissioned by plaintiffs who sued to overturn the disenfranchisement law.

Nearly 60% of people who lost their right to vote are Black, the study found. Mississippi’s adult Black population was at 36% in 2020, according to the U.S. census.

How does Mississippi’s current disenfranchisement system work? And how could lawmakers change it? The Marshall Project - Jackson interviewed experts and lawyers, and reviewed documents to answer key questions.

A close-up illustration of a person filling out a voting ballot.

If I am convicted of a felony in Mississippi, do I lose my right to vote?

Only some convictions in state court will take away a person’s right to vote, even after they are released from prison. Many other felony convictions, however, do not remove voting rights, including assault, burglary and drug-related crimes.

Which felony crimes will lead to the loss of voting rights?

The Mississippi Constitution lists 10 general crimes that are disenfranchising: murder, rape, bribery, theft, arson, obtaining money or goods under false pretense, perjury, forgery, embezzlement and bigamy.

Today, state officials interpret that constitutional list to include 22 broad criminal categories and about 100 different specific charging statutes, including timber theft, felony shoplifting and writing a bad check. See the full list of offenses here.

A close up illustration of a person using a computer to look up voter information.

If I have been convicted but I think I can vote, or register to vote, who would I contact to be sure of my rights?

Each county’s circuit clerk administers the voter registration process and makes the final determination about a person’s eligibility to register to vote. You can find your county’s election administrator through the state Secretary of State’s office.

Has disenfranchisement been challenged in court?

Several lawsuits have asked federal judges to find all or parts of the state’s disenfranchisement system unconstitutional. One lawsuit remains active, and a ruling from the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is pending.

If I have been disenfranchised, is there any way I can regain my right to vote?

A person’s voting right can be restored by The Mississippi Legislature. This has historically meant that a lawmaker must file a restoration bill for the individual, and then the bill must be passed by both houses of the Legislature and approved or allowed to become law by the governor. Since 1997, only about 200 people have had their voting rights restored through this process.

A photograph of the Mississippi State Capitol building.

The Mississippi State Capitol building.

Do some state lawmakers want to change the state’s disenfranchisement system?

The Mississippi House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill in March 2024 to allow people who are convicted of some disenfranchising crimes to automatically regain their right to vote either five years after conviction or five years after release from prison, whichever is later. To become law, the bill must be approved by the state Senate, where support for the bill is unclear. If it passes the upper chamber, the governor could sign it, allow it to become law without his signature or veto it.

Under the House plan, would some crimes still be disenfranchising?

Yes, the House bill would retain permanent disenfranchisement for the following crimes: Arson, armed robbery, carjacking, embezzlement of $5,000 or more, murder, rape, statutory rape and vote fraud. The Legislature would still have the power to individually restore voting rights.

An illustration of a White woman in a prison uniform filling out a voter registration form.

If I’m convicted of a crime that is not disenfranchising, can I vote from prison while serving my sentence?

Legally, yes. In practice, however, the process can be difficult to navigate, according to advocates who have done voter education work in state prisons. This guide from voting advocates has more detail on how to cast a ballot from prison.

What if my conviction has been expunged?

Some local election officials treat expungements as restoring a person’s right to vote, and some do not, according to a former state Rep. Nick Bain, who fought for a law to clarify that issue. The Legislature passed a bill in 2022 to clarify that expungement should restore someone’s voting rights, but Gov. Tate Reeves vetoed it. The issue remains legally murky and continues to be handled inconsistently, according to attorneys. Many of the disenfranchising crimes noted below are not eligible for expungement.

What if I am convicted of a crime in federal court? Or outside the state of Mississippi?

A felony conviction in federal court or a state court outside Mississippi will not take away the right to vote, even if the federal crime would be disenfranchising if the conviction occurred in state court.

What if I have been charged with a disenfranchising crime, but not yet been convicted?

A person is not disenfranchised unless convicted.

List of disenfranchising statutes

Below is the list of Mississippi disenfranchising statutes compiled by The Marshall Project - Jackson, based on information from the Mississippi Center for Justice, Southern Poverty Law Center, Mississippi Votes and the Mississippi Secretary of State’s disenfranchisement list.

If you were convicted of one or more of these offenses, you likely would not be able to vote or register to vote in a Mississippi election. Check with your county’s election administrator, who can be found through the state Secretary of State’s office.

Help us tell your story

Caleb Bedillion Twitter Email is a staff writer for The Marshall Project. He will delve into prisons, police and courts, and collaborate with local news outlets and publishing partners to expose inequities in the criminal justice system in Jackson, Mississippi. Bedillion comes to The Marshall Project from The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo, Mississippi, where he served as the politics and investigations editor. He most recently worked with ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network on stories that exposed widespread missteps within the Mississippi court systems involving indigent defense and no-knock search warrants, which led to a performance complaint against a judge. Bedillion holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Mississippi College and a master’s in religion from Yale University Divinity School.