A new Alabama law now allows some convicted felons to earn back the right to vote. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed he bill into law in May, reversing the more than century-old rule. While state lawmakers could not decide how to spend nearly $1 billion on prison reform, they could all agree on one thing. After 116 years, Alabama lawmakers decided it was time to let several criminals have a second chance to make their voices heard.
The defining, unanimous push behind state Sen. Mike Jones’ (R-AL, District 92) bill ultimately changed a law dating back to 1901. Rep. Chris Blackshear (R-AL, District 80) says the new law specifically lists more than 40 felonies that would automatically strip criminals of voting rights.
“Look at the constitution of 1901, there really was not a definition of moral turpitude,” Blackshear explained about what constituted the loss of voting rights. “It was kind of lenient and open for interpretation, which led to a lot of individuals losing their voter rights. Some would say they shouldn’t have based on the crimes they committed.”
Blackshear says the new law more clearly defines who, as a felon, can vote vs. who cannot.
“I truly believe in second chances for some,” Blackshear said. “There are some things you do when you don’t deserve second chances because it all starts with individual choices you and I make.”
Waleisah Wilson spent time in prison. Now, she helps former inmates find employment and regain their footing in society once they complete their prison sentences. Wilson believes voting provides a voice to all U.S. citizens, whether they are in or out of a prison cell.
“I think every state should allow you to vote, whether you’re in prison, on probation, or on parole,” Wilson said. “Just because you have a felony does not mean you’re a bad person. It just means you’ve made some poor choices.”
Wilson believes keeping felons from voting limits their productivity in society. She says mass incarceration disproportionately affects minorities, a trend, she believes, that has the same message in a different envelope.
“I think there are a lot of systems put in place to remind us that we’re not better off,” Wilson said. “As you know, mass incarceration, the issues, and the effects of it are known as the New Jim Crow. To exclude such a large number of people out of having a political voice, to me, is just wrong.”
Blackshear, meanwhile, admits no law is perfect. But he sees this new law as progress and a way for Alabama lawmakers to continue to review and evolve laws that need a fresh update.
“This makes it simple,” Blackshear said. “If you break one of these, you lose your rights. If you don’t, you have your voting rights.”
People who committed one of the crimes of moral turpitude would have to pay restitution or fines before reapplying for the right to vote. If they committed a felony not listed in this new law, they can apply for the right to vote, even while they are still in prison. To see the new law, click: Act No. 2017-378 (Moral Turpitude).