Alabama Must Immediately Educate Voters About Updates to State’s Felony Disenfranchisement Law

Date
Issues

CLC takes legal action following Secretary of State Merrill’s refusal to implement the law 

Campaign Legal Center today asked a federal court to immediately order the state of Alabama to implement the Felony Voter Disqualification Act (HB 282) (signed May 25, 2017) by educating and advising voters of the law, and ensuring that voters who are eligible are added back to the state’s voter rolls.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill told the Huffington Post he was “not going to spend state resources” educating Alabamians about the updates to the law, even though the state had previously inaccurately told many voters they could not vote, but thanks to the clarity in the law with HB 282, will now be able to vote. The Secretary of State has yet to update AlabamaVotes.gov, voter registration forms, or any other public materials to advise voters of the eligibility requirements.

CLC’s motion calls for the court to immediately order the state to take a series of actions to effectively implement the law before the next statewide election on August 15, 2017.

“This law has the potential to ensure eligible voters – who never should have been denied the right to vote in the first place – can now vote,” said Danielle Lang, senior counsel for Campaign Legal Center, which is representing 10 plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the state’s felony disenfranchisement law. “The state is responsible for correcting the confusion that has wrongly disenfranchised voters for decades. In order for HB 282 to have any meaningful effect, Alabama must notify voters about their right, and ensure they are able to successfully cast a ballot going forward.”

HB 282 provides a comprehensive list of crimes that “involve moral turpitude.” The state’s felony disenfranchisement law, originally enacted in 1901, denies individuals who have committed a crime of “moral turpitude” from registering to vote, unless they file further paperwork, pay significant fines and fees and have their right to vote restored by the state.

Yet, until the passage of HB 282, the state had never defined what constituted a crime that “involved moral turpitude,” confusing eligible voters of whether or not they could vote. And the state denied voters the ability to vote, claiming their crime was one of moral turpitude when it was not.

The passage of HB 282 does not fully resolve Alabama’s deeply troublesome felon disenfranchisement laws. The process is still inherently racially discriminatory and overbroad, permanently disenfranchising many individuals, including many convicted of non-violent crimes. The law also does not address Alabama’s system of conditioning restoration of the right to vote based on wealth by requiring the payment of fines and fees – a clear constitutional violation.