Disenfranchisement in Alabama

Alabama passed a law in May clarifying which felonies constituted “moral turpitude,” potentially enfranchising thousands of citizens, but Secretary of State John Merrill had said that his office wouldn’t take any action to make sure that people affected by the law actually know about it. The Campaign Legal Center, which is representing 10 plaintiffs suing the state over the moral turpitude law, has now asked the court to require Merrill to take meaningful measures to advertise the changes to the law, such as updating his website, election forms or advising local voter registrars. With a voter registration deadline for a special election for U.S. Senate approaching at the end of July, the Center said Merrill must act soon to educate voters.

Alabama had blocked people convicted of a crime of “moral turpitude” from voting since 1901 but never explicitly defined what constituted an offense of moral turpitude, although the law was limited to felonies in the 1990s. The ambiguity gave local election officials broad discretion to deny people the right to vote, which means some eligible voters may have been told in the past that they couldn’t vote and may continue to think they can’t.

“The state is responsible for correcting the confusion that has wrongly disenfranchised voters for decades. In order for HB 282 to have any meaningful effect, Alabama must notify voters about their right and ensure they are able to successfully cast a ballot going forward,” Danielle Lang, a lawyer at Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement. In addition to promoting the changes in eligibility, the Center has asked the court to require the state to automatically reinstate and notify voters who were disqualified to vote in the last two years but are now eligible. It also requests that the state produce a comprehensive list of all individuals who had been blocked from voting because of a conviction over the last two years and implement a public education plan targeted at people with convictions.

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