Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Good to Be King

To opine, or not to opineThe Birmingham News
Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Alabama's chief election officer is in a quandary - a big quandary. Secretary of State Nancy Worley needs to know which convicted felons are eligible to vote and which aren't. So she asked the state's top lawyer, Attorney General Troy King, for a list of the crimes that result in lost voting rights.

Before King's office answered, three Alabamians convicted of either drunken driving or drug possession sued over their denied voting rights.

Now, King says he can't answer Worley's question.

It's understandable the attorney general's office doesn't generally issue advisory opinions on matters that are subjects of a lawsuit. After all, advisory opinions from the attorney general are just that - advisory - and don't carry the force of a court ruling. Why wade into a controversy with an opinion when courts may soon issue a definitive answer?

But King's action in this case, or lack of it, raises questions. Just ask Worley. "I guess I find it very disturbing that the attorney general's office has taken eight months to respond," she said.

Consider the history here.

King's office issued an opinion on felon voting rights to the state Board of Pardons and Paroles last March; it said only felonies involving "moral turpitude" disqualify a convict from voting.

That's why Worley asked for more detailed advice in the first place. We'll grant King's defense: There are more than 250 felonies, and the review took time. But eight months?

Recall, King's office once received a question on Friday and had an answer the following Tuesday, not because the subject matter was so urgent but because the politics were right. (That question came from a lawmaker with ties to special interests targeting a wayward environmental commissioner.)

Then again, King's office has a history of punting, too. When asked about the controversial issue of annual property tax reappraisals, King refused to answer, saying the issue was moot even though it really wasn't - and certainly no more so than some of the other issues on which King had issued opinions.

We're not lawyers, of course. But it seems reasonable to ask why King can't at least provide Worley and voting registrars across the state a list of crimes where the answer about voting rights is clear.

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