From the BHAM News
News staff writer
MONTGOMERY - When James Solomon went to register to vote earlier this year, he said he was told he couldn't vote because of a past conviction for cocaine possession.
That was in direct contrast to advice given by the Secretary of State's Office that drug possession is not a crime that strips someone of their voting rights.
"I just wanted to vote. When you got a felony, they treat you like you're nobody," said Solomon, an Enterprise welder and the widowed father of seven.
A statewide computer system for the past 11 months has been noting convictions for more than 400 crimes that Gov. Bob Riley's administration deemed to be felonies of moral turpitude - even though officials with the Administrative Office of Courts said they were assured by Riley's office only a shorter list of 70 felonies developed by the attorney general's office were being checked.
"I know there is confusion. The computer system is flagging people who ought to be able to vote," said Kenneth Glasgow, a former drug offender turned pastor who works to help former felons to register to vote.
The dispute centers on the definition of a crime of "moral turpitude." The state constitution says people convicted of felony crimes of "moral turpitude" cannot vote until they get their rights restored, but it does not define the term.
Alabama Attorney General Troy King in a 2005 opinion named 28 felonies - which add up to about 70 crimes if each of the degrees of the offenses are counted - that have by statute or appellate decision been defined as crimes of moral turpitude.
Riley, serving as court-appointed chief of Alabama elections, in 2007 created a list of more than 400 disbarring felonies and gave it to Election Systems & Software, the company hired to create a voter registration database for the state. Riley's list includes crimes ranging from terrorism and homicide to starting a brush fire and drug possession.
What a mess, eh? For once I come down on the side of Troy King and his original opinion in 2005 listing what crimes should automatically bar a person from voting and what crimes do not. Mark that down because me agreeing with Troy King is unlikely to ever happen again. And Riley should be ashamed of himself for adding drug possession to his list. Why should being in possession of an inanimate substance for personal use bar one from voting? It's like he thinks Republicans don't use drugs....or more likely he knows that Republicans are less likely to get caught and do jail time because they are usually white.
AOC Legal Director Griffin Sikes Jr. said the governor had no legal authority to classify so many crimes as crimes of moral turpitude. Sikes said that, for months, the governor's office had assured the AOC that only the shorter list was being used, but Sikes found out last month those assurances were given "in error."
Riley Communications Director Jeff Emerson said the governor's office was forced to come up with its own list because the AOC initially refused to provide one.
Emerson said that, although the governor's office agreed to let the shorter list be used, it believes its own research is more comprehensive and accurate.
Emerson said that, until last month, crimes on both lists were being flagged by the computer system. Cost was a factor in not swapping the lists, he said.
"We were told to remove the larger list would be very, very expensive," Emerson said.
So, Riley comes up with his own list, which is in direct conflict with the Alabama Office of the Courts list, lies to the AOC by assuring them that they are using the short list and then claims it would be too expensive to use the short list when they get caught using the long list which Riley never had the authority to implement or define in the first place. So, the citizens right to vote is dependent on how much is would cost for the Governor's office to use the proper list. That's a little too reminiscent of a poll tax if you ask me. If Riley's office had used the proper list to begin with then there would be no extra cost incurred. Fear not though because we have the right people in the case.
The disagreement over the felony lists isn't the only one of the state's voting procedures being challenged less than a month shy of the election. One lawsuit also has been filed on the behalf of three former inmates who weren't allowed to register to vote, and another has been filed on behalf of Glasgow's efforts to register inmates to vote absentee. The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law also said last week that it wants to seek records about voter roll purges in Alabama and another dozen states.
I want to really give the credit on moving this very important issue into the media spotlight to Rev. Kenny Glasgow. This is the issue nearest and dearest to his heart and he has done amazing work over the last few years to really bring this issue to light. Kenny is a modern day hero to the disenfranchised voter. Not many people are willing to stand up and fight on behalf of people in prison. Once you go to prison, even if it is for possession of drugs for personal use, the public treats you like a leper and forgets that you exist. When you get out of prison you are treated with the same mentality, stigmatized as an ex-con and marginalized by society. You can't get public housing, public assistance, a decent job or federal aid for a college education to improve your lot in life. If you are one of the people in Alabama who has lived this nightmarish reality then getting to vote is a huge, positive and important thing. It is a small step to reentering society and feeling like you have a voice, that you are overcoming the taxation without representation reality that former prisoners live every day.
Great work Kenny Glasgow!!! If you'd like to know more about Kenny and the work that he does, join his organization, volunteer or make a monetary contribution please visit TOPS today!