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The Moral Turpitude of Voter Disfranchisement

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July 22, 2008

Big news out of Alabama this week. The ACLU and ACLU of Alabama filed a new lawsuit against election officials over the state’s expansive and unconstitutional voter disenfranchisement practices. Approximately 250,000 Alabamians have lost the right to vote because of a felony conviction — that’s one in 14 people in the state.

Alabama disfranchises people with felony convictions involving “moral turpitude.” According to the state constitution, only the legislature can determine what crimes fit into this antiquated-sounding category. But that didn’t stop Attorney General Troy King from creating his own broader list of disqualifying felonies in 2005. The AG’s list included several nonviolent offenses, including forgery. That’s right, forgery.

To make matters worse, election administrators across Alabama are currently disqualifying citizens from voting for felony convictions that neither the legislature nor the attorney general has ever listed as disfranchising offenses.

Check out today’s excellent New York Times story on the case that features ACLU Voting Rights Project Director Laughlin McDonald and one of our clients, Annette McWashington Pruitt, who was disfranchised because of a 2003 conviction for receiving stolen property, an offense not on the legislature’s list of moral turpitude felonies. She said in our press release:

“I have voted many times before. My father taught me this is what every American should do. But when I tried to register a few weeks ago I was told I couldn’t. My youngest son just turned 18 and is going into the Navy. I have another son in Iraq right now. Voting is really my duty because it represents the freedom my sons are protecting overseas.”

This shameful policy has no place in a functioning democracy. We are confident that the court will see the moral rectitude in giving Alabamians their fundamental rights back before the November elections.

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