mississippi right to vote
In Mississippi, two African American men vote for the first time in the 1946 Democratic primary. Many southern states have persisted with Jim Crow-era laws the disproportionately impact black voters. Photograph: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive
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What’s legal is not always just. Throughout time there have been countless laws enacted that permitted deception, crippled economies, and conquered Black people all across the globe. Sadly, an 1890 law is doing the same thing in 2022.

Back then, a Mississippi Convention President stated, “We came here to exclude the Negro.” Their intentions couldn’t have been more clear and the lasting results couldn’t be more staggering as currently about 16% of age-eligible Black Mississippians aren’t able to vote due to the antiquated law which bans felons of particular crimes from voting. 

There’s been much debate about whether voting matters. Yet, if our ballot wasn’t valued, the measures taken over centuries to bar Blacks from the polls wouldn’t have grown more insidious.

It’s crazy to think that since America’s founding there has never been a single election held in which we weren’t purposely excluded in some form but that reality is what Black Mississippians like Roy Harness are fighting against as best he can. 

mississippi right to vote
Some Lawmakers say the Legislature should take steps this year to provide Mississippians safe voting options if the coronavirus pandemic is still an issue in November. (Mississippi Today)

Army veteran is denied the right to vote

Throughout Black history and presently there has always been a fight: A fight for liberation, for civil rights, for representation. A fight to matter. 

Mr. Harness’ fight for the right to vote comes in the form of getting basic answers to basic questions. As an Army veteran, he served his country. As a convicted felon over forging checks in the 1980s, he served more time than his sole two-year prison sentence would suggest.

“It makes me feel bad. I’ve served my country, nation … got a degree and [I] still can’t vote, no matter what you do to prove yourself,” Harness said.

Demonstrators, who identified themselves as members of the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights, gather around an open casket containing a copy of the 15th Amendment on the steps of the Atlanta, Georgia post office, March 30, 1963. (AP)

Mississippi bars more of its people from voting than any other state

But why not just apply at the State voter registration for reinstatement? Simple. It doesn’t exist. As a matter of fact, there is no digital or physical paper trail, instructions or guide in which persons like Mr. Harness can follow in order to have their voting status reinstated solely because of the type of non-violent offense he committed.

It quite literally doesn’t exist. The only way to navigate your way through Mississippi’s esoteric labyrinth involves knowing the right State official at the right time to “vouch for you” from the county level all the way up to the Governor, the ultimate decider on whether you’re allowed to vote again. A process full of arbitrary arbiters and cloaked in disguise, more than one in 10 citizens of voting age are prohibited from voting in Mississippi because of a felony conviction – the highest rate of disfranchisement in the US. 

The State of Mississippi has made it intentionally nearly impossible for those like Mr. Harness, who has earned his Master’s Degree in Social Work among other achievements that have defined his character much longer than a petty crime committed in the 80s. 

Much like the judicial system that throws the book at a low-level drug dealer as if he’s Franklin Saint, it seems whenever a Black person is found ‘guilty’ of any crime, punishments are swift, severe and stifling, designed to keep us oppressed in a country none of our ancestors chose to sail toward.

Hailing from Charlotte North Carolina, born litterateur Ezekiel J. Walker earned a B.A. in Psychology at Winston Salem State University. Walker later published his first creative nonfiction book and has...