In November, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) voting rights advocates traveled across Alabama to help people with past felony convictions restore their right to vote and train community leaders on rights restoration.
We found that citizens across the state are being effectively denied their legal right to vote by misinformation and bureaucratic hurdles.
The state took a step toward a stronger democracy in May when it passed a new law that clarifies which felony convictions disqualify people from voting, ending over 100 years of legal ambiguity. However, the stories of people we met from Mobile to Huntsville illuminated several problems with the application of this new law that are preventing individuals who have the right to vote from exercising it.
Part 3: Administrative Confusion
Melinda Ricketts of Montgomery runs a job skills training program called ‘A Cut Above the Rest’ for people with convictions, veterans, and displaced workers. Ten years ago, she was convicted of failure to return a rental car. After she attempted to register to vote, she was sent a letter by the board of registrars telling her that she could not. Failure to return a rental car is not a disqualifying felony under the new law. After finding out about the new law, she attempted to register again. Her application was wrongly denied because of confusion at her county board of registrars over when the change in the law became effective but she received no notification that it had not gone through.
Ms. Ricketts had registered to vote on July 25, in time for the deadline to vote in the August primary for the special Senate election. The Secretary of State had interpreted the new law to allow those who were re-enfranchised to register in time for that deadline. Yet in this case, the registrar in Montgomery who reviewed her application believed that she could not register until August 1. Ms. Ricketts was erroneously denied her right to vote in the primary as a result.
Her case demonstrates that the state is not just failing to educate the public on the new law. It is failing to educate its own employees who are responsible for administering the law. We have seen this play out in other ways. Few people who are disenfranchised have someone to advocate on their behalf, so it is difficult to say how many registrations have been denied because of similar misunderstandings. Unfortunately, the Secretary of State, who is responsible for overseeing the offices of registrars, has not done enough to eliminate internal confusion within his administration.
As a result, some Alabamians are being denied their most fundamental political right over the most banal of details.
Ms. Ricketts is among those who have the right to vote under the new law but have been disenfranchised by administrative ineptitude. Her issue has been resolved, but she is likely representative of a multitude others who are similarly situated. Moreover, there are an estimated 250,000 people in Alabama who are disenfranchised by the state because of their convictions or their inability to pay legal fines and fees.
CLC is representing people with convictions in Alabama who are challenging its felony disenfranchisement law because it is fundamentally discriminatory and acts as a poll tax. To learn more about the history of the law and the harm it does watch our new video, Uncounted, below. To better understand Alabama’s law, watch this informational video or visit our rights restoration toolkit. For more information on our case, Thompson v. Alabama, click here.