Dennis Hopkins was convicted of theft 25 years ago in Mississippi and has long been out of prison. He has raised a family, built a towing business and coached local youth sports teams. There is one thing he hasn’t done: vote. Now he is the lead plaintiff in a class-action case challenging the state’s disenfranchisement of people with felony convictions, one of a number of suits that could affect voting rights across the south ahead of the 2024 election.
“Many of the members of the class permanently lost the right to vote long ago, and for what most would consider to be minor crimes,” said Jonathan Youngwood, a lawyer representing Hopkins and the other plaintiffs.
States have wide latitude to set rules for elections, and restrictions on voting by felons vary considerably. Nearly half the states ban felons from voting while they are incarcerated. Another group of states also restricts voting for people on probation or parole. In 11 states, felons face high hurdles in obtaining restoration of their voting rights and can lose their access to the ballot indefinitely, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.