New law in Alabama expands disqualification of felons from voting to protect election workers

Under a new law in Alabama, individuals convicted of felonies will now face automatic disqualification from voting. This law has been implemented to broaden the classification of crimes involving moral turpitude in the state.

Rep. Adline Clarke, D-Mobile, introduced HB100 with the aim of imposing stricter penalties for offenses committed against poll workers and other election officials.

In response to the increase in threats made towards poll workers and election officials following the 2020 presidential election, the bill was introduced. It is worth noting that officials in states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia, and others have been subjected to alarming levels of threats.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, eighteen additional states have passed laws since 2020 that specifically focus on safeguarding election officials and poll workers.

HB100 not only increased the penalties but also classified crimes against election officials as crimes of moral turpitude. This designation leads to the disqualification of convicted individuals from voting in Alabama.

Clarke stated that individuals who commit one of the crimes of moral turpitude listed in the Felony Voter Disqualification Act will have their right to vote revoked. He emphasized that if someone commits a serious crime against an election official, thereby interfering with the election process, it is only reasonable for that person to lose their own voting rights.

Lawmakers made amendments to the bill before its passage, expanding the definition of crimes of moral turpitude to include six additional felonies. Additionally, they included four categories of felonies for “inchoate” crimes, such as attempted crimes and conspiracies.

Representative Jim Hill, a Republican from Moody, introduced an amendment to expand the list of crimes classified as moral turpitude. According to Hill, the office of Secretary of State Wes Allen approached him to sponsor the amendment, and he agreed to support the proposal.

Clarke did not voice any opposition to Hill’s amendment during the House floor proceedings. The amendment was unanimously approved by the House, followed by the bill receiving a unanimous vote of 95-0. In the Senate, it received a unanimous approval of 31-0, and ultimately, Governor Kay Ivey signed it into law.

According to the office of the secretary of state, the law is set to be implemented on November 6th, the day after the general election. This is in accordance with a constitutional amendment that was approved by Alabama voters in 2022, stating that election-related laws cannot be altered within six months of an election.

The list of newly classified felonies as crimes of moral turpitude comprises three categories: domestic violence crimes, compelling gang membership, aggravated stalking, and elder abuse.

Clarke explained that she consented to the floor amendment mainly because it categorizes domestic violence as a crime of moral turpitude. She firmly believes that individuals who commit a domestic violence felony should be deprived of their voting rights until they have completed their sentence.

Kathy Jones, the president of the League of Women Voters of Alabama, expressed her disappointment with the Legislature’s decision to increase the number of people who are unable to vote due to felony convictions. While recognizing the seriousness of the crimes on the list, Jones believes that this disqualification is a remnant of past segregation-era tactics aimed at preventing Black individuals from participating in the electoral process.

Jones expressed his viewpoint on the matter, highlighting that the crimes listed are serious offenses. However, he firmly believes that once an individual has completed their sentence and paid their dues, their right to vote should not be linked to the crimes they have committed. He further argues that the existence of such laws is a remnant of the discriminatory Jim Crow era.

Alabama has a rich history of depriving voters of their rights for acts of moral turpitude. This practice dates back to the Alabama Constitution of 1901, which aimed to prevent Black individuals and impoverished whites from exercising their right to vote. The law encompassed both misdemeanors and felonies, without providing a clear definition of moral turpitude. Consequently, county boards of registrars, comprised of political appointees, had the authority to decide which individuals convicted of crimes would be disqualified from voting.

The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated Alabama’s practice of denying voting rights to individuals convicted of misdemeanors in 1985. Subsequently, in 1996, Alabama voters passed a constitutional amendment that barred individuals with felony convictions involving moral turpitude from voting, but the term “moral turpitude” remained undefined.

In 2017, the Legislature passed the Felony Voter Disqualification Act after the federal lawsuit known as Thompson v. Alabama. This act finally defined crimes of moral turpitude and listed over 40 offenses, including murder, robbery, rape, assault, sexual abuse, and other violent crimes. It also included certain nonviolent crimes like burglary and forgery.

Felons who have served their sentences, paid all fines, court costs, and restitution, and do not have any pending felony charges, can apply for a Certificate of Eligibility to Register to Vote (CERV). However, individuals convicted of certain serious crimes such as murder, rape, sexual abuse, and treason are not eligible to receive a CERV.

Clarke expressed her belief that citizens should be given the chance to have their voting rights restored after they have fulfilled their sentences, completed probation, or received a pardon. She strongly believes that individuals deserve a second chance once they have fully paid their dues.

The League of Women Voters, along with other organizations, assists individuals who have served their sentences and are now considered disenfranchised felons in obtaining a Certificate of Eligibility to Restore Voting Rights (CERV) to regain their voting rights.

Democratic lawmakers have introduced bills to remove the need for a CERV. They propose that the Board of Pardons and Paroles should restore voting rights automatically for individuals who have fulfilled their sentencing, fine, and restitution obligations, and who do not have any other pending felony charges. Senator Linda Coleman-Madison, a Democrat from Birmingham, sponsored this legislation in the current year, but unfortunately, it did not progress.

According to Jones, individuals should either have their voting rights reinstated automatically or never have lost them in the first place. He believes that Alabama is not moving in that direction, as the recently proposed bill, HB100, expands the list of individuals who have lost their voting rights. Jones feels that this is a step in the wrong direction.

Secretary of State Allen maintains his support for the expansion of the list of felonies that disqualify individuals.

According to Allen, the HB100 bill garnered unanimous bipartisan support from both the Alabama House and Senate. He emphasized that every Republican and Democrat who voted in both chambers supported the bill. Allen believes that HB100 will serve as a powerful deterrent for individuals contemplating criminal activities in Alabama. He clarifies that the bill does not disqualify anyone from voting, but rather, it is the criminals who disqualify themselves by breaking the law and causing harm to communities.

According to Hill, the lawmaker who introduced the amendment to expand the list of crimes considered as moral turpitude, he acknowledges Jones’ perspective but disagrees with the idea that it is inappropriate to include voting disqualification as a consequence for certain offenses.

In expressing his views on voting, Hill emphasizes the importance of exercising one’s right to vote. He believes that voting is a fundamental right that should not be taken for granted. Hill also acknowledges that although voting is a valuable right, it is not immune to consequences. He suggests that individuals should be mindful of their actions as they can potentially impact their voting privileges.

According to the Voting Rights Lab, an unbiased organization that monitors state election laws, there are only two states, Maine and Vermont, that do not have any type of voter disenfranchisement for convicted felons. In 20 states, disenfranchisement is only in effect while the individual is serving time for the felony.

Former circuit judge Hill expressed his support for Clarke’s bill, which aimed to safeguard election workers.

Under the new law, individuals who commit a crime with the intention of targeting election officials will be subject to more severe punishments compared to the regular minimum penalties for the same offense. For instance, if someone is found guilty of a Class B felony, such as first-degree assault, against an election official, they would be required to serve a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, while the standard minimum for a Class B felony is typically two years.

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