Felons And Voting
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.