Two legal advocacy groups have jointly launched a new initiative aimed at helping thousands of Alabama felons regain their right to vote.
The Campaign Legal Center and Southern Poverty Law Center announced Thursday that the campaign, dubbed the Alabama Voting Rights Project, “will take a simple message across the state: A felony conviction does not permanently take away a person’s right to vote,” according to a joint statement by the two groups.
The campaign’s workers will “organize and train local leaders in communities across the state, participate in community events and forums, and go door to door” to inform formerly incarcerated people that they may have the right to vote, despite the fact that they have felony convictions.
“The Alabama Voting Rights Project is going to organize door to door, community by community in every region of Alabama to reach tens of thousands of Alabamians affected by recent changes in the law,” said Blair Bowie, Alabama voting rights campaign manager and Skadden Fellow at the CLC.
The new initiative comes about a year after the passage of a state law called the Definition of Moral Turpitude Act, which makes it so that people convicted of certain felonies in Alabama are now eligible to register to vote or reclaim voting rights that had been stripped from them.
The law established a list of felony convictions deemed acts “of moral turpitude” that result in automatic disqualification from voting in Alabama. Being convicted only of felonies not on that list no longer results in automatic disenfranchisement.
Previously, decisions about which felonies were considered “of moral turpitude” – and therefore resulted in loss of the franchise – were made on an arbitrary, case-by-case basis by each county’s board of registrars. And tens of thousands of Alabamians who lost their voting rights after being convicted only of crimes no longer considered “of moral turpitude” under the new law are now eligible to restore their right to vote.
But information about the Definition of Moral Turpitude and its impacts on many Alabama residents has not reached every felon who could be helped by it. And state Secretary of State John Merrill said last year that he does not intend to expend state resources to inform people who are impacted by the law that they are now able to register to vote.
That’s where the CLC and SPLC hope that they can help, by getting the word out to everyone in the state who is newly able to register to vote or regain the franchise under the new law.
“So many people fought and died to ensure that all citizens have a voice in American society through the right to vote, yet many men and women – disproportionately African Americans and poor people – have been denied the right to vote even after completing their sentences,” Lecia Brooks, outreach director for the SPLC, said. “The Alabama Voting Rights Project is dedicated to ensuring that every person who is eligible to vote in Alabama is registered, and that each one of them can access the franchise. A healthy democracy depends on full participation by all members of society.”
For more information, the CLC and SPLC suggest visiting www.alabamavotingrights.com, which provides resources and information to help felons register to vote or regain the franchise.