Voting Rights Watch: In Alabama, registrars face confusion over which ex-felons can vote

The Birmingham News is reporting that less than a month shy of a historic election expected to bring record turnout, there still is confusion which over ex-felons can be excluded from voting in Alabama. State officials have given boards of registrars conflicting lists of felony convictions that bar a person from voting.

According to the Birmingham News:

A statewide computer system for the past 11 months has been noting convictions for more than 400 crimes that Gov. Bob Riley's administration deemed to be felonies of "moral turpitude" - even though officials with the Administrative Office of Courts said they were assured by Riley's office only a shorter list of 70 felonies developed by the attorney general's office were being checked.

Now voting rights advocates are voicing concerns that the computer system is flagging people who should be able to vote and that people have been improperly purged from the voter rolls.

The problem still remains with the extremely murky definition of a crime of "moral turpitude." Facing South reported that the ACLU sued Alabama elections officials earlier this summer over this overly expansive policy of disenfranchising felons. According to the Alabama State Constitution, people convicted of felony crimes of "moral turpitude" cannot vote until they get their rights restored, but it does not define the term. Alabama Attorney General Troy King in a 2005 opinion named 28 felonies that have by statute or appellate decision been defined as crimes of moral turpitude, but Governor Riley created a list of more than 400 disbarring felonies and gave it to Election Systems & Software, the company hired to create a voter registration database for the state. The Riley list includes crimes ranging from terrorism and homicide to starting a brush fire and drug possession.

The Birmingham News reports that AOC Legal Director Griffin Sikes Jr. said the governor had no legal authority to classify so many crimes as crimes of moral turpitude. Sikes said that, for months, the governor's office had assured the AOC that only the shorter list was being used, but Sikes found out last month those assurances were given "in error." As of now, crimes on both lists are being flagged by the computer system.

The controversy over the felony lists isn't the only one of Alabama's voting procedures being challenged this week, as Facing South noted yesterday. According to the Birmingham News, in Alabama:

One lawsuit also has been filed on the behalf of three former inmates who weren't allowed to register to vote, and another has been filed on behalf of Glasgow's efforts to register inmates to vote absentee. The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law also said last week that it wants to seek records about voter roll purges in Alabama and another dozen states.