The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News/Updates 7/24/08

Alabama: ACLU Files Lawsuit Challenging Crimes of Moral Turpitude, Restitution Requirement The American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama filed a lawsuit this week on behalf of three women who had completed their sentences but were denied their right to vote. The suit challenges a 2005 opinion by Attorney General Troy King expanding the types of offenses for which an individual can lose the right to vote. Approximately 250,000 people in Alabama are banned from voting because of a conviction for a crime of "moral turpitude," which is defined by statute. In 2003, the Alabama Legislature passed a law requiring the Board of Pardons and Parole to provide a "certificate of eligibility to register to vote" to all persons who have completed sentence and paid fines and restitution, as long as they had not been convicted of specified serious offenses. The 2005 opinion by the attorney general added additional disqualifying offenses, many of them nonviolent. The ACLU is arguing that the attorney general's list is unconstitutional because only the state legislature can define crimes of "moral turpitude." "This whole notion of moral turpitude is so vague and imprecise," said Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project. "It's in the larger interest of the general public to rehabilitate people. It's one of the things that rehabilitates people, participating in the political process." The ACLU is also challenging the requirement that all fines and restitution be paid prior to being eligible to register to vote. Read the complaint, motion for preliminary injunction, and motion for class certification. Florida: Make a "Simple Fix" "Don't make convicts pay for their sins again," reads an Orlando Sentinel editorial in support of complete civil rights restoration. The editorial board urges Gov. Charlie Crist and the Executive Clemency Board to make a "simple fix" to modify current law that keeps many individuals with felony offenses from voting or applying for occupational or business licenses because they owe restitution. The Orlando Sentinel argues that voting rights should be restored automatically upon completion of sentence and job eligibility should be determined by the oversight agencies of the specific occupations. "It's important that they be given every reasonable opportunity to make the transition back to society as smoothly as possible," the editorial states. "Finding a job is critical. So why is Florida making that process more challenging?" Virginia: Collateral Consequences Unfair, Unnecessary "The labyrinth of rules and regulations for re- enfranchisement in the commonwealth needs to end," commented Edward Hailes Jr., senior attorney at Advancement Project, in reference to Virginia's disenfranchisement laws. In an op-ed published in the Roanoke Times, Hailes stated that denying citizens' voices is undemocratic and unjust. "Contrary to popular belief, felony disenfranchisement laws are not part of the criminal justice system. Instead, they are state election laws, enacted by state legislatures and governors or hardwired into constitutions. Losing the right to vote after a felony conviction in Virginia is not in any way part of a criminal sentence -- it is a collateral consequence dictated by state law." On behalf of the Advancement Project, Hailes applauded Gov. Tim Kaine's efforts to expedite the review process for petitioners with non-violent criminal records. Since taking office, Governor Kaine has restored voting rights to 1,809 persons who had been convicted of a felony. North Carolina: Community Groups Get Out The Vote Three organizations in North Carolina hosted a rally to educate people about the rights of formerly incarcerated citizens and register them to vote in the upcoming election. Democracy North Carolina, Fresh Start Incorporated and the Institute for Community Justice of Fayetteville State registered nine individuals at the event. "The right to vote is one of our most fundamental rights in a democracy," said Jennifer Frye, associate director of Democracy North Carolina. "It's a ticket to feeling like a first-class citizen." In North Carolina, citizens with felony offenses can vote after the completion of sentence, including probation and parole. Contact Information -- e-mail: [email protected], web: http://www.sentencingproject.org

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