Tuesday afternoon, a Washington D.C. based public interest group will ask a federal judge to force the state of Alabama to reinstate voting rights to some convicted felons immediately. The Campaign Legal Center (CLC) is hoping that Judge Keith Watkins will grant an injunction requiring Secretary of State John Merrill to educate these felons on their newly-gained right to vote.
The case comes after Governor Kay Ivey signed HB 282 in May, listing 46 felonies that will cause an otherwise eligible voter to lose their right to vote. These 46 felonies include murder, drug trafficking, and other violent crimes. Previously, the state restricted the voting rights of anyone who committed “crimes of moral turpitude.” However, until May, the definition of this standard has been hotly disputed.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill explained to Yellowhammer that, previously, there was no clear definition for moral turpitude. As a result, different voter registrars interpreted the term’s meaning differently, creating inconsistent rules with who was allowed to vote and who wasn’t—all depending on how individual registrars interpreted the term.
“After I became Secretary of State, I set out to fix this,” Merrill said. To that end, he assembled a study committee with a large cross-section of experts that met for nine months, seeking the most sensible ways to reassimilate those who’d paid for their crimes. The bill Governor Ivey just signed into law was the result of that effort, and Merrill believes it’s created a far more equitable set of rules.
“We’re thrilled because we clearly defined moral turpitude and gave registrars a list of the crimes associated with that designation, so now they know who can register and who can’t. As a result, our new law ensures that no one’s rights are being violated because we have a straightforward process by which past offenders can have their voting privileges restored. My ultimate goal is to ensure that every eligible U.S. citizen that’s a resident of Alabama is registered to vote and has a photo ID, and this law does that.”
Nevertheless, The CLC hopes to force Merrill to do more. They claim that many felons who are now eligible to vote do not even know that the new legislation has been passed. The CLC hopes the court will force Secretary Merrill to include the updated eligibility requirements on voter registration forms, and the AlabamaVotes.gov website.