home

Alabama's Felon Disenfranchisement Law

by TChris

An editorial in today's NY Times calls attention to the true purpose of felon disenfranchisement laws in southern states: "felony disenfranchisement is an enormous obstacle to voting for black people in the Deep South."

In Alabama, an archaic law strips the right to vote from people convicted of crimes involving "moral turpitude,'' without explaining what that is or what crimes are covered. A man who was convicted of a felony for driving under the influence of alcohol, for example, was stripped of his right to vote. When he reapplied for the vote, different agencies gave him contradictory answers, and he was initially prohibited from registering.

People who work and pay taxes deserve to participate in the political process. Erecting barriers to voting that disproportionately disenfranchise black voters is antithetical to democracy. The solution is clear:

The only honorable solution is to automatically restore voting rights to Alabamians who have completed their sentences. That's the only way to take this issue out of the hands of bureaucrats and make amends for one of the most shameful voting rights records in American history.

< Monday Open Thread | Goodwill Squandered >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft


  • Re: Alabama's Felon Disenfranchisement Law (none / 0) (#1)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Mon Sep 11, 2006 at 04:25:37 PM EST
    This bugs me to no end. Isn't your prison sentence supposed to be the sum and whole of paying your debt to society? Isn't your re-entering society after a sentence supposed to give you your rights back? It's as if the sentence continues, after the sentence ends. What would motivate an ex-felon to follow laws that he or she has no voice in? I wonder if the felon rate is higher for blacks and minorities, who tend to vote Democrat. I wonder if the stats showed potential republican voters were ex-felons would they change the law.

    Re: Alabama's Felon Disenfranchisement Law (none / 0) (#2)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Mon Sep 11, 2006 at 04:25:37 PM EST
    Thanks for your comments on the editorial. The case being discussed is Gooden v Worley and I am one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs. I have documents from the case on my website here.

    Re: Alabama's Felon Disenfranchisement Law (none / 0) (#4)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Mon Sep 11, 2006 at 06:06:29 PM EST
    Re: Alabama's Felon Disenfranchisement Law (none / 0) (#5)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Mon Sep 11, 2006 at 10:12:44 PM EST
    These felon exclusion laws have a disparate racial impact. So do drug laws. How about a compromise? So long as the felon is on parole or probation, he can't vote. Once he's done with supervision, he can?

    Re: Alabama's Felon Disenfranchisement Law (none / 0) (#3)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Mon Sep 11, 2006 at 10:37:53 PM EST
    Should they have their right to own firearms restored as well? If they can't be trusted to own a black powder match lock, then by what logic can be trusted with the vote?

    Re: Alabama's Felon Disenfranchisement Law (none / 0) (#8)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Sep 12, 2006 at 08:58:20 AM EST
    Actually, they can own a black powder matchlock. In modern America, one can buy a black powder muzzleloader without a gun permit (in most states). I would suggest a cap-and-ball revolver, though. You can preload 6 shots, but after that it has about a 1 round per minute firing rate. Federal statutes provide exceptions to these restrictions for antique firearms or their replicas. More specifically, the federal restrictions do not apply to antique firearms (firearms manufactured on or before 1898) or their replicas. This exception includes any match lock, flint lock, or percussion cap firearm. Black powder firearms fall into this category. If an antique or its replica has been refitted with center fire or rim fire action then the exception does not apply. (from this). I think this makes the argument that the state considers voting and gun ownership to be privileges, rather than rights. To me, voting seems more like a right.

    Re: Alabama's Felon Disenfranchisement Law (none / 0) (#9)
    by Bill Arnett on Wed Sep 13, 2006 at 10:32:55 AM EST
    As "taxation without representation" was among the driving forces of the Amnerican Revolution the fair solution to this problem is this: Any citizen denied the right to vote for any reason should be totally relieved of the burden of paying taxes. Pass a law such as this and presto!, the rabid right will restore their voting rights of ex-felons so fast it would make your head spin - or they would become felons themselves to avoid paying taxes.

    Re: Alabama's Felon Disenfranchisement Law (none / 0) (#10)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Sep 13, 2006 at 10:32:55 AM EST
    Disenfranchisement is NOT a racial issue. Sure it may seem disproportionate in southern states. But that's because southern states seem to have more African-Americans and for some reason those A-A's tend to commit crimes more often.
    If they can't be trusted to own a black powder match lock, then by what logic can be trusted with the vote?
    What sort of twisted logic is that? Try this. Every adult arrested for and convicted of a felony had the right to vote at the time. Therefore logic like yours dictates that voters can't be trusted because they are going to commit crimes. I see people claim that felons voting will plunge the country into lawlessness as felons begin voting their own kind into office and start repealing criminal laws. Funny, but Vermont seems to do just fine and they even let felons in prison vote.

    Re: Alabama's Felon Disenfranchisement Law (none / 0) (#11)
    by cpinva on Wed Sep 13, 2006 at 10:32:55 AM EST
    Dan L - last time i checked, the NRA claims the 2nd amendment gives everyone the right to own a gun, no exceptions stated. if one accepts that argument as valid, one must, perforce, accept that the right to vote has no exceptions, within the parameters set by the constitution. that being the case, no state has a right to limit further the voting franchise, for federal elections. to do so is clearly a violation of our basic rights. the states bank on the constitutional provision giving them the authority to establish, locally, the various rules for voting (place, time, recounts, etc). i think they overreach when they go to qualifications though, as these are quite clearly spelled out separately at the federal level, and the states have no direct standing to change those. the same goes for the new "voter ID" provisions, nowhere stated in the constitution. absent a showing of a compelling public interest in preventing voter fraud (a statistical analysis identifying significant voter fraud as the result of a lack of ID), that federal judge in arizona was flat out wrong. perhaps,this is why she hasn't given out her full rationale for upholding it yet? again, absent some clear evidence showing a compelling public interest in disenfranchising felons who've served their sentences, the law itself would seem unable to withstand judicial scrutiny. anyone know what that "compelling" public interest might be?

    Re: Alabama's Felon Disenfranchisement Law (none / 0) (#6)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Wed Sep 13, 2006 at 01:14:52 PM EST
    Anon, you can't see the difference between a vote and a gun?

    Re: Alabama's Felon Disenfranchisement Law (none / 0) (#7)
    by cpinva on Wed Sep 13, 2006 at 01:14:52 PM EST
    this case raises a valid question: at what point has someone "paid their debt to society" for whatever infraction they committed? here in va, we just had a case dismissed, in prince william county, regarding the new requirement to register for the sex offender registery. don't get me wrong, i'm not advocating sex offenses, but this has always struck me as an additional, lifetime punishment. if that's what the legislature wanted, than why not just go ahead and make the sentence life to begin with? that would seem to solve everyone's problem. at what point do these things become unconstitutional? talk about lack of closure, for anyone.