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A left-right coalition is trying to help nearly 200,000 Mississippians regain the right to vote after serving time. Above, voters cast ballots in Ridgeland, Miss., for a runoff election in November 2018.

Landmark test for felon voting rights reaches federal appeals court

The constitutionality of one of the nation's strictest curbs on felon voting was debated in a federal appeals court Tuesday.

A coalition of groups on both the left and right, from the ACLU and NAACP to the libertarian Cato Institute, have joined the cause of almost 200,000 Mississippians who have done their time but may never vote again without a governor's pardon or a reprieve from the Legislature. The state says it has almost limitless leeway under the Constitution to set those parameters.

However the case gets decided by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a subsequent ruling by the Supreme Court could provide definitive word on the future of expanded voting rights for convicts, which has emerged as one of the top democracy reform causes of the decade.

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Air Force/ Kemberly Groue

Naturalized citizens (but not natives) must prove their citizenship when registering to vote in Mississippi. Above, members of the military becoming citizens at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi.

Mississippi voting rules biased against immigrant citizens, suit alleges

The latest effort to ease restrictions on voting through litigation is a challenge to Mississippi's requirement that naturalized citizens show proof of their citizenship when they register.

The lawsuit, filed Monday by the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, says the law is unconstitutional because it violates of the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause by treating one category of citizens differently from another. People born in the United States need only check a box on the state's registration form attesting they are citizens.

The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which helped bring the suit, says Mississippi is the only state with a unique mandate for would-be voters who were not born American citizens.

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Big Picture

8 places where democracy reform faces the voters on Tuesday

Last year was a really good year for placing democracy reform in the hands of the electorate. This year, not so much.

In the 2018 midterms, ballot proposals adopted in more than a dozen states and cities expanded the use of automatic voter registration, independent redistricting commissions, public financing of campaigns and other democracy reform proposals.

Next week's off-year election will see only a small roster of contests with an expansion of democracy itself on the ballot, and most have relatively narrow scope and limited reach.

But good-government advocates hope a wave of victories creates momentum for a more ambitious roster of proposals to get spots on the ballot alongside the 2020 presidential election.

And while the roster of pro-democracy choices may be limited this Nov. 5, the overall number of direct-democracy opportunities is large. Not since 2007 have so many ballot measures (three dozen) gone before voters in an odd-numbered year, according to Ballotpedia.

Below are the eight items on the ballot next week that good-government advocates are watching most intently — listed alphabetically by where the voting will take place. Four are initiatives in big cities and two are statewide referenda. The others are partisan elections for offices where the future of a reliable and relatable democracy is part of what's in the offing.

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"Today, Mississippi is one of only two states where the winner of the popular vote does not automatically become governor," writes Gideon Cohn-Postar.

How one Southern state’s election rules perpetuate a racist past

Cohn-Postar is a graduate student in history at Northwestern University.

A lawsuit over a Mississippi election law could change the way that state elects its governor.

Four African-Americans filed the federal civil rights lawsuit in May, charging that the way their state elects its statewide officials violates the Voting Rights Act, the 14th Amendment and the principle of "one-person, one-vote."

To win election, a candidate for governor has to win an outright majority of the popular vote – and win a majority of Mississippi's 122 House districts.

If no candidate does both, the state House selects the governor, regardless of who got the most votes. No African American has been elected statewide since 1890.

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