Alabama’s De Facto Disenfranchisement: Bureaucratic Backup

Alabama State Capitol

This post is the second in a three-part series about CLC's work in Alabama to educate people with past felony convictions about their voting rights. Read part one. Read part three.

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.

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Part 2: Bureaucratic Backup

Anna Reynolds of Dothan was convicted of theft of property in 1997. While this is a disqualifying conviction under the new law, Ms. Reynolds is eligible to restore her voting rights by applying for a Certificate of Eligibility to Register to Vote (CERV) because she has completed her sentence and owes no fines and fees. The Board of Pardons and Paroles is required to issue the CERV within 44 days of an eligible citizen submitting an application.

Ms. Reynolds applied for her CERV in May of this year but she was nearly denied the right to vote in the December 12 election, which will be held nearly six months after the state’s deadline for issuing her CERV.

First, her application was rejected for a lack of a “wet” signature, which has never been an explicit requirement for these applications.

Next, she was erroneously notified that she did not need a CERV because of her type of conviction. This was incorrect. Ms. Reynolds does need the CERV to register to vote.

Finally, Ms. Reynolds’ new application for a CERV was received on July 28. Under Alabama law, her CERV should have been issued by Sept. 10, 2017. But 80 days later on November 29, her signed CERV was sitting on a desk at the Board of Pardons and Paroles, waiting to be mailed. The deadline to register to vote for the December 12 election had passed two days earlier.

Ms. Reynolds’ story shows how the Alabama government’s bureaucratic backups and failure to meet statutory deadlines can thwart the right to vote. We have reason to believe there may be hundreds of others similarly situated.

Ms. Reynolds 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.


Blair is the Director, Restore Your Vote.