The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News/Updates 8/22/08

Alabama: Moral Turpitude 'Vastly Inferior' The Press-Register featured an opinion editorial by former assistant attorney general David Bourne which blasted the ACLU Alabama's recent lawsuit advocating that citizens with felony convictions be allowed to vote. Bourne writes "The ACLU's lawsuit is nothing but a first step toward setting up polling places in prisons and jails. Our state cannot allow that to happen." He further argued that election officials would be faced with major inconveniences in deciding in which districts prisoners lived and having to spend "entire, 12-hour voting days within jailhouse walls." Calling Alabama's disenfranchisement laws "dysfunctional" and "vastly inferior," a commentary by Sam Brooke and Kimble Forrister featured in the Huntsville Times emphasizes the complex system that has confused many citizens with felony convictions seeking their right to vote. "How could such widespread mistakes occur? The short answer is that confusion over Alabama voting laws has long vexed citizens and state officials alike," the authors state. "We have a shameful history of voter disfranchisement, and conflicting statements from the attorney general and the Legislature haven't helped." The Legislature has identified disfranchising felonies, which include murder, rape, and forgery - named by the Constitution as crimes of moral turpitude. "Now, termination of voting rights occurs only for felonies involving 'moral turpitude,' an antiquated term that is not defined in the constitution ... It is absurd to require citizens who have never been deemed by the Legislature to be disfranchised in the first place to go through this process to exercise a right they never legally lost," the commentary continues. State law allows citizens with felony offenses and those currently serving terms for lesser felonies such as felony DUI, attempted burglary, battery, aiding and abetting escape and some drug possession offenses to vote. More than 5,500 people have had their voting rights restored under the new process, and 220 had requests pending at the end of July, the Montgomery Advertiser reported. Another 327 received pardons between the beginning of the year and the end of July. As a result, activist and head of The Ordinary People's Society, the Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, continues to educate people in jail and citizens with felony convictions on Alabama's voting rights laws, the Dothan Eagle reported. For additional coverage, see the Final Call . California: County Jail Inmates Educated About their Right to Vote in Upcoming Election All of Us or None, a national organizing campaign, educated people in county jail in Redwood City on their right to vote. Dwight Dominique, who was released from jail six months ago, is helping to let inmates know that they can vote in the upcoming election, the San Mateo Daily News reported. Dominique said he didn't realize he was surrendering his vote when he pled guilty to felony drug charges. "Had I known, it probably would have made a different effect on the plea bargain I took," said Dominique, who was hoping to participate in this year's presidential election. Indiana: Advocacy Organization to Recruit 500 Volunteers to Register Voters The Grassroots Effort Committee for Change hopes to unveil voting power by helping to register individuals with felony offenses. They are recruiting 500 volunteers to educate and register the population, Fort Wayne's Frost Illustrated reported. Florida: Committee Supports Restoration While Commission Continues to Experience Backlog The Florida Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights last week released its report on the restoration of voting rights for citizens with felony convictions, "Ex-Felon Voting Rights in Florida: Revised Rules of Executive Clemency that Automatically Restore Civil Rights to Level-1 Offenders Is the Right Policy." In the report, the Committee unanimously supports a policy change and recommends that succeeding Governors and cabinet officials continue to endorse and retain this policy, Market Watch reported. The organization is a bi-partisan advisory panel to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The full report is available on the Commission's Web site. The issue of disenfranchisement was featured in a Florida Courier article that reported on the community's disappointment in the lack of diversity that exists on the Florida Parole Commission. Although the Commission has restored voting rights to about 115,000 people with non-violent offenses, the Commission still has thousands more applications to review. The article stated that the Commission processes about 7,000 cases a month; the prison system stated that about 3,000 individuals are released every month, leaving a minimum two-year waiting period for individuals currently on the list. Illinois: 'Myth' Misinforms Too Many A Journal Gazette Times Courier letter to the editor stated that the "myth" that formerly incarcerated persons cannot vote is misinforming many. Written by a citizen with a felony conviction who hopes to educate and register individuals like himself, Robert D. Donnell stated that county officials, too, don't know the state's laws, contributing to the misinformation. - - - - - - Help The Sentencing Project continue to bring you news and updates on disenfranchisement! Make a contribution today. Contact Information: e-mail -- [email protected], web:

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