New Video Showcases How Alabama’s Felony Disenfranchisement Law Continues to Silence Voices of Voters
Alabama faces another election on December 12, while the state continues to deny as many as a quarter of a million Alabamians their right to vote
WASHINGTON – Many people with past felony convictions won’t be able to vote in Alabama’s special election on December 12 due to the state’s discriminatory felony disenfranchisement laws. Campaign Legal Center today released a video highlighting stories of voters whose voices are silenced in the state. Their stories represent a nationwide problem.
“We need to move toward a system that is free and fair and everyone’s voice is heard,” said Danielle Lang, senior legal counsel, voting rights and redistricting at CLC. “Our clients are tax-paying, hard-working citizens with a stake in their communities but without a voice in their government. Our democracy works best when all citizens can vote without barriers, and all people deserve a second chance. Citizens who have served their time deserve to participate in our democracy.”
Alabama is still one of 12 states that restrict voting rights even after a person has served his or her prison sentence and is no longer on probation or parole. An estimated quarter of a million Alabamians or more in the state are disenfranchised because of the state’s law. According to most recent estimates, that is up to 7.6 percent of the entire statewide voting-age population and 15.1 percent of the black voting-age population. It affects six million people throughout the United States.
“I work, I pay taxes, I do all the things that everybody else does, but when it comes down to voting, I can’t voice my opinion on anything that matters,” said Treva Thompson, a disenfranchised Alabama citizen who is the named plaintiff in CLC’s lawsuit and who is featured in the video.
Thompson is trying to pay off her restitution to regain the right to vote, but according to her estimate, it would take her 73 years to pay off fines and fees necessary to vote under current law. Alabama is one of several states that hinge restoration of rights on an individual’s ability to pay past fines and fees. CLC challenges this requirement as nothing more than a modern day poll tax in a lawsuit before a federal district court, Thompson v. Alabama.
This video shows the real world impact of felony disenfranchisement laws in Alabama and nationwide. “It’s not about black or white, it’s not about Democrat or Republican, it’s about right or wrong,” said Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, leader of the Ordinary People Society, who is featured in the video.
Alabama’s law not only disenfranchises hundreds of thousands of people with past convictions but its confusing and haphazard application has threatened the rights of many more.
Alabama disenfranchises individuals with certain felony convictions, so-called “crimes of moral turpitude.” For many years, the state did not define “moral turpitude” or create a complete list of felonies that disqualify a voter. This led to widespread confusion and many people being wrongly told by registrars that they could not vote, when they should have never lost their rights.
On May 17, 2017, the Alabama Legislature passed a bill that defined what crimes involve "moral turpitude" for the purposes of determining which citizens can vote. However, the state has not made a significant effort to correct many years of registrars erroneously denying the right to vote to people who were convicted of crimes that are not considered disqualifying under the new law. The state voter registration form still does not include the list of disqualifying crimes.
CLC is working with advocates on the ground – including the Ordinary People Society, Greater Birmingham Ministries, Alabama Nonviolent Offenders Organization and others – to educate Alabamians about their rights since the law was clarified, because the state has refused to allocate state resources for such outreach.
CLC developed a voting rights restoration toolkit for Alabama citizens to determine if they have the right to vote and follow a simple process to restore their rights, if eligible. While the registration deadline passed for this election, citizens can begin the process for 2018.
CLC’s filed its lawsuit challenging Alabama’s felony disenfranchisement law eight months before Alabama clarified its law. The passage of HB 282 was a step in the right direction but does not address the underlying discrimination of Alabama's system or its conditioning restoration of the right to vote based on wealth. CLC represents individuals in Alabama who are U.S. citizens with past felony convictions, seeking the right to vote.
Read the stories of our plaintiffs and learn more about the case.