Felons And Voting

I’ve posted on this topic here, here, and here.

The basic problem is that Alabama’s constitution prohibits voting by those convicted of crimes of “moral turpitude.” That phrase being inherently vague, there has been plenty of administrative confusion over who can and cannot vote.

Troy King has a solution:

Attorney General Troy King said he plans to propose a constitutional amendment that would return to Alabama’s old system, requiring all felons to apply to the state parole board to get their voting rights restored after finishing their punishment.

His constitutional amendment would apply to future felons, not those already in the system.

“It clarifies the law,” King said. “It makes it easier for election officials to do their jobs. And it preserves the integrity of our system.” . . .

“It seems to me what we need in this state is a bright line,” King said. But he said that line can only be drawn for future felonies. It can’t apply to those who’ve already been to prison.

To get that bright line, King said he will ask the Legislature to pass a constitutional amendment saying “we are not going to allow felons to vote.” It would be a part of their sentence, like restitution, King said.

Then when they finish their sentences and pay all their debt to society, they could apply to the parole board to get their voting rights back.

I think he’s right that the state needs a bright line rule. His amendment, though, is not a bright line. It really would not change anything. As things are now, no-one really knows who gets to vote, and under King’s amendment, that would remain the situation, because every felon would have to apply to the board and the board would have to make an individual determination about the felon’s eligibility. As the folks who would have to apply King’s proposal point out, his idea will definitely not solve the administrative problem:

“It would be a nightmare,” Sarah Still, manager of the board [of pardon and paroles] pardons division, said Friday.  . . .

“Our officers have more than enough to do without doing investigations. And our board has more than enough to do without holding hearings,” said [Cynthia Dillard, the board’s acting executive director].

I’m willing to agree with King that we should ban felons from voting while they serve their sentences, but when that’s done, they ought to have their voting rights automatically restored. I don’t see any benefit to permanently denying someone the right to vote, and automatic restoration would prevent the current confusion about who does and does not get to vote again.

On the other hand, if we are convinced that some people should never again be allowed to vote, than why not make that a sentencing option? That way the issue is argued and resolved along with the initial criminal proceedings. It’s still an ad-hoc method, but it should save on administrative resources.  

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8 Comments on “Felons And Voting”

  1. Dystopos Says:

    If i remember my Alabama constitutional history, I think “moral turpitude” refers to the act of impugning a virgin of the white race.

  2. not roy johnson Says:

    well, king finally has one close to right. but, does that mean king wont be allowed to vote after his involvment with roy johnson and alabama power is investigated?

  3. Kathy Says:

    Typical Troy — grandstanding without thinking through the implications of his “tough on crime” proposal.

  4. Old Prosecutor Says:

    Voter Registars at one time denied any convicted felon the right to vote unless his rights had been restored via a pardon. Then AG King gave an opinion that only people convicted of a felon involving moral turpitude lost the right to vote. For the last 2 years voting officials have asked King for a list of what crimes do and do not involve moral turpitudr which he has refused to give. Seems as if he would only do his job a constitutional amendment would be unnecessary

  5. wheeler Says:

    you know, that first opinion is one time where i can say he was right. why he would then refuse to just provide a list is beyond me. using westlaw, it would take about ten minutes. sure there would still be some litigation, but much less confusion than we have now.

  6. Dan Says:

    Old Prosecutor, King gave an AG opinion that skimmed over which laws do and do not involve moral turpitude. It wasn’t very thorough, but the case law is inconsistent and arbitrary. I don’t think he could easily come up with a list as AG. It will take either a thorough court ruling or legislation.

  7. Old Prosecutor Says:

    Dan, i agree there is something of a problem. Most of the law deciding what are and are not crimes of moral turpitude occurred in connection with impeaching a witness. When the new rules of evidence were adopted the moral turpitude requirement was deleted concerning impeaching a witness.

    That said, I still don’t understand why he can not provide a list of crimes the Courts have already decided involve moral turpitude (see Wheeler’s comment). As to other crimes, an AG Opinion is just that, an opinion. However Voter Registars following such an opinion would be protected and anyone disagreeing with his opinion could file and ask a Court to rule.

    My point is I don’t thing the AG should give an opinion like he did, then refuse to assist the registars in carrying out his opinion, then try to make political hay out of the confusion you created.

  8. Firenze Says:

    Troy King should assist Alabama in joining the 21st Century. Instead he’s playing to the cheap seats with even cheaper shots. To King, jaywalking is a crime of moral turpitude.


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