Should some Georgia felons retain right to vote while serving sentence?

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The Georgia Senate is studying a recommendation from an Augusta lawmaker that would allow non-violent offenders to retain voting rights while in prison.

That debate came to Muscogee County Friday morning when a Senate committee met at Columbus State University. 

A lot of this conversation centers around the definition of one term — “moral turpitude.” And where you fall on this debate depends on how you define that term.

Under Georgia law, those convicted of crimes of moral turpitude are not eligible to vote until their sentences are complete. That includes time served on parole or probation.

Any felony conviction from capital murder to possession of a piano with a scratched off ID number will cost you the right to vote in Georgia.

Three senators, including Harris County Republican Randy Robertson, listened to activists weighing in on what promises to be a heated debate next year.

Listen to what they say about moral turpitude.

Sen. Harold V. Jones, the Augusta Democrat who started this conversation that led Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan to form the study committee, says: “It is a very vague term and always has been. And for our purposes here today, what we found is, of course, we have no definition at all.”

Robertson, the chairman of the committee, defines it this way: “Those behaviors that are counter to what the moraes, desires, and needs are voted on and decided in  the community in which the individual lives.”

Sara Totonchi, executive Director, Southern Center for Human Rights, defines it this way: “That is the reason we are here today, there is simply no definition of moral turpitude in Georgia law.”

Another view comes from Sen. Ed Harbison, a Columbus Democrat: “A lot of people will say this to you, I may not know how to define it, but I know it when I see it.”

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