[Image via fhwa]

Alabama’s Governor has signed a bill that clarifies which felony convictions involve “crimes of moral turpitude” and thus result in loss of voting rights. WSFA-TV has more:

Governor Kay Ivey signed a bill [HB282] into law Wednesday that clears up confusion for some 250,000 Alabamians who currently can’t vote due to a felony conviction. 

There’s now a list that clearly defines which felonies prohibit someone from the ballot box for life. For others, this bill could restore their voting rights, but just how many remains unclear.

If you’ve been convicted of a crime, the Southern Poverty Law Center breaks it down like this: your voting rights fall into one of three categories.

The first, you’re permanently disenfranchised. This includes people with murder or rape convictions. The third category is for those with misdemeanors who never lost the right to vote, but the middle category, the one the law deals with, is for those who have been convicted of a felony, but there’s a grey area surrounding their voting rights.

The constitution says you can lose your right to vote if you’re convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude.

“Because there was no codified list or state law that said these are the crime for which you lose your right to vote, there was arbitrary application among the different registrar’s office,” said Shay Farley, Policy Council, Southern Poverty Law Center [SPLC]. 

Meaning up until this point, a felon’s right to vote varied county by county. 

This is an issue that has popped up in other states as well; in 2016, I wrote about a dispute over Iowa’s policy of disenfranchising voters for “infamous” crimes and noted the challenge policymakers and courts face in determining how and where to draw the line between which crimes affect the right to vote. Alabama’s law does just that.

There is, however, some disagreement on the impact of the new law:

The SPLC says statistics show 15 percent of Alabama’s population can’t vote due to a felony record.

“We’re estimating that it will impact a few thousand people,” said Farley. 

But Secretary of State John Merrill disagrees.

“That’s like when people tell me that there’s thousands and thousands of people being disenfranchised by the photo ID component which that’s not true and it’s not true that there’s thousands and thousands of people that are going to be affected by this legislation,” said Merrill. 

The SPLC points out the majority of Alabamians with a felony record are African American and there are very few white-collar crimes on this list so no fraud or public corruption charges listed. 

Whatever the impact on the state’s voting population (a number that should emerge as the law takes effect) this is a step forward for local election officials across Alabama. A clear list of which laws result in disenfranchisement will reduce some of the guesswork and discretion involved in the process. I have little doubt this will get even more attention in the weeks and months to come as the law begins to take effect. Stay tuned …