Restoring Ex-Convicts’ Voting Rights


Willie Mack found out by accident that he could register to vote. He had been filing a change-of-address form at the local department of public safety when, to his surprise, the agent helping him asked if he wanted to register to vote. Given his record of past criminal convictions, Mack asked if he could. The woman helping him confirmed, so Mack filed the paperwork. Mack lives in Tuscaloosa, AL, where he works 12-hour days as a FedEx courier — a job he feels lucky to have after spending most of his life in and out of prison. A few weeks later, a letter of denial arrived in the mail.

Restrictions and legal fines and fees keep an estimated 250,000 voters from the polls in Alabama. Until last year, Alabama counties decided on a case-by-case basis what convictions resulted in disenfranchisement. In August 2017, the state passed a “Definition of Moral Turpitude Act,” which defined which felonies would and would not prohibit a person with a past conviction from voting. In an attempt to clarify the laws for people uncertain about their re-enfranchisement status, the Campaign Legal Center and Southern Poverty Law Center launched a nationwide online tool this summer called Restore Your Vote. Organizers piloted a local version of the program called the Alabama Voting Rights Project — eventually, they would help Mack gain his right to vote.

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