Law to Keep Ala. Felons From Voting Fought

     (CN) — An Alabama law that prevents people with prior felony convictions from voting in unconstitutional and should be tossed, a group of former felons claim in court.
     In a federal complaint filed Monday in the Middle District of Alabama, 10 former felons said under state law, because their crimes involved “moral turpitude” and that concept is poorly defined in the statute, they are unable to restore their right to vote.
     “The Alabama Legislature has never determined what felonies ‘involve moral turpitude,'” the complaint states. “Yet the State of Alabama requires citizens to declare under penalty of perjury that they have not been convicted of a ‘disqualifying crime’ in order to register to vote, stifling the registration of qualified voters.”
     According to the complaint, the law’s language is unconstitutionally vague, leaving “the fundamental right to vote of hundreds of thousands of voters to ad hoc and arbitrary determinations by individual county registrars across the state.”
     Furthermore, the complaint claims the law is racially discriminatory as it affects a disproportionate number of black voters. According to the complaint, some 15 percent of the state’s black voting-age population has been disenfranchised.
     From the complaint: “Under the totality of the circumstances, Alabama’s enforcement of Section 177(b) of the Alabama Constitution results in racial discrimination in voting because it denies black voters an equal opportunity to participate effectively in the political process and therefore violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.”
     According to the complaint, those who have lost their voting rights can have them restored by applying for a Certificate of Eligibility to Register to Vote (CERV) through the Board of Pardons and Paroles.
     However, the state’s criteria to receive a CERV require that each individual “has paid all fines, court costs, fees, and victim restitution ordered by the sentencing court at the time of sentencing on disqualifying cases.”
     The complaint says the requirement amounts to “nothing more than a modern day poll tax that disproportionately excludes black voters from the franchise.”
     Joining with the plaintiffs in the suit is Greater Birmingham Ministries, an organization founded in 1969 to promote social justice in the Birmingham area.
     Other defendants include Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, Chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Registrars George Noblin, in his official capacity and on behalf of a class of all voter registrars in the state, and Chairman of the Board of Pardons and Paroles Clifford Walker.
     The plaintiffs in the case seek a declaratory judgment and injunction preventing the defendants from enforcing the state’s felony disenfranchisement laws.
     They’re represented by Alabama attorneys J. Mitch McGuire and James Blacksher, along with Danielle Lang and Gerald Hebert of the Campaign Legal Center, Jessica Ring Amunson, Pamela Karlan, Armand Derfner and Anderson Francois.

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