Alabama Restores Voting Rights for Thousands with Felony Convictions

Kindred Motes Former Digital Strategy Director
May 19, 2017

In criminal justice reform, it’s been a good couple of months for the South. 

[Updated 11/30/17]

As noted in a New York Times article, Louisiana Governor John Bell Edwards has struck a deal to reduce Louisiana’s prison population—and in Georgia, the Times calls Republican governor Nathan Deal, a former prosecutor, “a national leader in the prison reform movement.”

Now, Alabama is poised to begin addressing voter disenfranchisement—beginning with restoring voting rights to people formerly convicted of certain types of felonies. Addressing voter disenfranchisement has long been a component of the criminal justice reform process that many view as a necessary step towards changing the way America views—and treats—people who were formerly incarcerated. 

Since the Supreme Court’s 2013 repeal of Section IV of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, reformers have worried that the special scrutiny and oversight that once protected classes of voters—many of them poor people of color—had given way to discriminatory practices that constrained the democratic process, keeping many communities locked out of it. That has been especially true for the millions of Americans who are formerly incarcerated. 

In May, a bill, called the Definition of Moral Turpitude Act, passed through both houses of Alabama’s legislature.

Governor Kay Ivey's office reported shortly thereafter that the Governor had signed the act into law, extending the right to vote to 'thousands' of people with felony charges.

As The Birmingham News originally reported:

By redefining "moral turpitude," the bill would effectively restore "thousands" of felons' right to vote. Rather than continuing to be loosely interpreted as referring to every felony but a list of five that includes driving under the influence and aiding and abetting, the term would refer to less than 50 specific "felonies that involve moral turpitude which disqualify a person from exercising his or her right to vote. The bill's text states that it would…ensure that no one is wrongly excluded from the electoral franchise.

The law is expected to have ‘wide-reaching impacts’ across Alabama, including by allowing those who are currently incarcerated to vote via absentee ballot.

Advocates are hopeful that Alabama may embrace an aspect of criminal justice reform that they have long called for:

Photo Credit: Adam Jones, Flickr