A bill has been signed into law in Alabama which could possibly restore voting rights to thousands of felons within the state.
On May 24, Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama signed the Definition of Moral Turpitude Act -- which was approved by the state legislature the previous week -- into law, reports AL.com. The new law establishes a definitive list of less than 50 crimes of moral turpitude. Alabama law blocks anyone convicted of having committed a crime of moral turpitude from voting.
Before this new law was signed by Ivey, what constituted a crime of moral turpitude was reportedly very ambiguous. According to NPR, there was no definitive list of what constituted moral turpitude; for example, past court rulings indicated public drunkenness, speeding, and attempted burglary were not considered crimes of moral turpitude, but that burglary was.
In addition, the way in which moral turpitude was defined throughout the state was often inconsistent. In Alabama, the decision to allow ex-felons to vote falls in the hands of unelected county voter registrars, according to Mother Jones. These registrars have sometimes reportedly made differing decisions regarding similar crimes.
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For example, back in February of 2016, NPR reported on a brother and sister in Alabama who had received similar drug convictions several years apart. The sister was able to have her voting rights restored, but her brother's request to have his rights restored was denied because his crime -- which was only slightly different -- was considered to be one of moral turpitude.
"Former felons in each of Alabama's 67 counties might get 67 different answers to whether their crime was one of moral turpitude," NPR wrote of the situation.
In the past, critics of Alabama's felon disenfranchisement laws have said that the ambiguity regarding moral turpitude has contributed to the disenfranchisement of African American voters within the state.
For example, AL.com reported that a federal lawsuit had been filed in September 2016 which alleged that Alabama's laws regarding felon disenfranchisement were intentionally racially discriminatory. This assertion was influenced by statistics such as a 2016 study by The Sentencing Project, which indicated that Alabama's felon disenfranchisement law blocks 15 percent of African-American Alabama residents who would otherwise be able to vote.
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At this point, it is reportedly unclear how many people will be influenced by this new law. According to WSFA, the Southern Poverty Law Center has estimated that the new law will impact thousands of people.
The law has reportedly received a warm reception from supporters, including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, reports AL.com.
"We commend Governor Ivey and the Alabama State Legislature for recognizing that Alabama law left the voting rights of too many citizens -- especially Black citizens -- hanging in the balance because of a legal ambiguity," the fund said in a statement on May 25. "With the stroke of a pen, Governor Ivey has taken a significant step towards making Alabama's democracy more vital."