Monday, November 21, 2005

Drug and Alcohol Felons CAN VOTE in Alabama

Drug, alcohol convicts can vote from prison

The Associated Press
By Samira Jafari
May 19, 2005

Many state prisoners convicted of drug and alcohol felonies may be eligible to vote, even while incarcerated, though they probably don't know it.

The state Board of Pardons and Paroles announced Wednesday that under a 1996 amendment to the Alabama constitution, inmates convicted of DUIs or drug possession alone never lose their voting rights -- despite the common belief that felons are prohibited from casting ballots.

"Everybody thought anyone convicted of a felony lost the right to vote," said Cynthia Dillard, assistant director for the pardons and paroles board.

Dillard said the parole board looked into the issue after hearing about a Pell City prosecutor trying to charge an inmate who attempted to vote in last November's elections. The board received a March 18 advisory opinion from Attorney General Troy King, who said only those 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 Secretary of State Nancy Worley to King seeking a comprehensive list of crimes that forfeit voting rights and those that don't.

"A uniform listing of felonies involving moral turpitude should be established, distributed and publicly posted in order to avoid different interpretations in each county," Worley said in a statement Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for King said Wednesday the request was being researched, but would not elaborate.

Voting officials also were trying to determine whether any names were improperly removed from the state list of registered voters.

Prison system and voting officials were uncertain how many inmates would be affected. More than 2,250 inmates were in prison for drug possession and about 640 were serving time for felony DUI as their most serious offenses, according to Dec. 31, 2004 figures by the Alabama Sentencing Commission.

It's unclear how many of those inmates were registered to vote and the prison system has not encountered any prisoners trying to vote, said DOC spokesman Brian Corbett.

He said if some inmates are eligible to vote, they likely would have to petition the circuit clerks in their home counties for absentee ballots.

The voting amendment states that inmates convicted of a crime of moral turpitude are ineligible to vote unless their right is restored, typically by a certificate from the pardons and paroles board. DUI and drug possession are prohibited by law, but not necessarily immoral, according to King's opinion.

"This is atypical," said Marc Mauer, who has researched felon voting laws for The Sentencing Project.

"In 48 states, generally all people in prison are not eligible to vote," he said.

Maine and Vermont are the only two states that don't revoke voting rights upon conviction.

Alabama also is one of 15 states that doesn't automatically restore voting eligibility upon release from prison, Mauer said.

While co-hosting the morning show today with Roberta Franklin I informed listeners that people in Alabama who have been convicted of a non-violent drug or alcohol related felony can still vote in the state of Alabama.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, most people were unaware of this ruling in May by Alabama Attorney General Troy King. After the show we decided to test out this ruling by going by the board of registrars office in downtown Montgomery. My friend and supporter William Boyd met us there with a relative who had been convicted of a drug felony and served two years in prison. He and Roberta requested voter registration forms to fill out.

When they handed them back in the lady behind the desk punched in their information and she informed one guy that his name had never been removed from the list of eligible voters. He told her that he tried to vote last year but his name was not on the list so he was denied the right to vote. Then the lady behind the desk said that those re-applying for a right they never actually lost had to have a letter of pardon from the Governor's office.

I explained to her that is not actually the case. She had not even heard of this ruling by the A.G.
She did reinstate the young guy's voting rights and gave him his voter registration card but would not/could not re-instate Roberta's right to vote. No reason was given.

I believe Roberta was slated to go home and call the ACLU. I'll keep you posted on how that progresses.

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