Wednesday, January 11, 2006

AG Declines to Issue List of Crimes that Ban Felons From Voting

Associated Press Writer
Montgomery Advertiser

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Attorney General Troy King says he will not issue a comprehensive list of felonies that would bar convicts from voting because of the ongoing litigation against Secretary of State Nancy Worley, who says such a list is greatly needed by Alabama's registrars.

King, in a letter delivered to Worley Tuesday, said lawsuits filed against her by convicted felons claiming Alabama has wrongly denied their voting rights prevent him from intervening on the issue. He said the issue is now a matter for the courts.

"It is a longstanding policy of this Office to decline to issue opinions when matters are in litigation," he said in the letter.

The issue of felons registering to vote came to light after the state Board of Pardons and Paroles announced in May that, according to a 1996 amendment to the Alabama constitution, many state prisoners convicted of drug and alcohol felonies may be eligible to vote - despite common belief that felons are prohibited from casting ballots.


The board received a March advisory opinion from King, who said only felonies involving "moral turpitude" - meaning the crimes are inherently immoral - disqualify a convict from voting.

The finding caught state voting officials off guard, prompting a request by Worley to King seeking a comprehensive list of crimes that forfeit voting rights and those that don't.

Worley, responding to Tuesday's letter, said she believes Alabama's registrars are entitled to a comprehensive list to help guide them when fielding applicants.

"I guess I find it very disturbing that the attorney general's office has taken eight months to respond," Worley told the Associated Press. "We can't have registrars making judgment calls."

King said his staff identified 278 felonies listed in the Code of Alabama and had worked on determining which ones could be deemed crimes of moral turpitude until the lawsuits were filed late last year.

He said convicts who are denied voting privileges still have the opportunity to appeal decisions by registrars, but Worley said that would cause "an extraordinary amount of red tape" in the system.

Worley added that she should have received a comprehensive list that only excluded the crimes of the convicts in the lawsuits.

She reasoned that if determining such crimes was a difficult and time-consuming task for King's staff, it's even more difficult for "non-legal folks to attempt to make that determination."

King's spokesman Chris Bence said the lawsuits are seeking class action status, meaning they would represent convicts of many felonies - preventing King from issuing a complete list.

It's unclear how many convicted felons are eligible voters. At the time of the announcement by the pardons and paroles board, some 2,000 inmates were in prison for drug possession and about 600 were serving time for felony DUI as their most serious offenses.

Maine and Vermont are the only two states that don't revoke voting rights upon conviction, according to The Sentencing Project, a Washington-based research firm. Alabama also is one of 15 states that doesn't automatically restore voting eligibility upon release from prison.

In 2003, Gov. Bob Riley signed a bill that permits most felons to apply for a certificate of eligibility to register to vote after their sentences are completed. Prisoners convicted of murder, rape, sodomy, incest and other similar sex crimes permanently lose their voting rights unless they are pardoned.

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