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Ezekiel Edwards

Give Back the Right to Vote

In Alabama, people convicted of a felony are barred from ever voting again if their crime involved "moral turpitude". How does Alabama define moral turpitude? It doesn't. Someone seeking enfranchisement might receive different responses from various agencies depending on each agency's interpretation of "moral turpitude". Arguably, all crimes involve some degree of moral turpitude; consequently, large-scale disenfranchisement is alive and well in the Heart of Dixie.

Alabama resident Richard Gooden, frustrated by his permanent disenfranchisement resulting from a felony conviction for driving under the influence (apparently a crime of "moral turpitude"), challenged the statute. Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance Jr. held recently that until the legislature clarified the statute's ambiguous language, felons could vote (but then delayed his ruling until after the November 7 elections, nullifying the short-term immediate effect of the decision).

Instead of engaging in fanciful wordplay, Alabama should speak clearly in favor of giving people back the right to vote after they have served their prison time. The same goes for the handful of other states in which convicted felons can never vote again, as well as for the majority of states where prisoners, parolees, and people on probation cannot vote.

Despite what some opponents of universal enfranchisement argue, this is not a partisan pledge on behalf of the Democratic Party (since many people assume --- often incorrectly --- that Democrat is the preferred party of the majority of disenfranchised felons); it is a non-partisan pledge for easing our country's harsh treatment of people trying to reenter society, contribute to their communities, and participate in civic affairs.

Disenfranchisement policies take millions Americans out of the democratic process every election and has a disproportionate effect on poor people and people of color. An estimated 4.7 million Americans, or one in 43 adults, have currently or permanently lost their voting rights as a result of felony conviction.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee concluded this year that U.S. disenfranchisement policies are discriminatory and violate international law. The Committee noted specifically that the widespread denial of voting rights to people with felony convictions disproportionately impacts the rights of minority groups and called for the restoration of ex-prisoners' voting rights.

Vermont and Maine have functioned quite well allowing convicts, parolees, and people in prison to vote. In those states, where inmates can vote on everything from the election of judges to how much money is spent on the police in their hometowns, prisoners say that being able to vote restores some dignity and sense of hope.

States should heed the U.N.'s advice and follow the equitable, democratic, humane approach of Maine and Vermont and, at the very least, allow all ex-prisoners to vote, if not eliminate disenfranchisement laws altogether.

Ezekiel Edwards: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 8:45 AM, Sep 12, 2006 in Civil Rights | Criminal Justice | Democracy | Politics | Voting Rights
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