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Can I Vote?

Anniston Soup Kitchen Director Katrina Dorsey helps client determine the status of his voting rights. Last year, Alabamians previously convicted of felonies were able to register to vote for the first time as a result of the Moral Turpitude Act, a 2017 law that defined which crimes do and don't preclude those previously convicted of felonies from voting.

Calhoun County Voting Rights Project November Update

Since the October update, there have been a couple of important steps forward on voting rights restoration.

One major step is that Angie Smith, through connection with the League of Women Voters of Alabama, will have direct access to AlaCourt. This is the statewide, online court record system. Having this direct access will greatly expedite helping individuals, because many people don’t know what statute they were convicted under. On that basis, they can’t know what path to go through to restore their voting rights – if they even need to do so.

Another step is that enough people have now come forward to get a picture of what’s really involved. Moreover, it’s encouraging that these people have come through several contacts.

One piece of Good News is that the local officials handling voter registration seem genuinely interested in helping people through the hoops. So, even if people go directly to the county office, it seems likely they’ll get the help they need to start the process.

We will continue contacts with youth groups, fraternities, and other organizations to develop cooperative efforts and expand outreach.

This month, enough time has passed since the first requests for a Certificate of Eligibility to Register to Vote (CERV) that applicants should be receiving these from the State. However, we haven’t heard back from all applicants to know the outcome. So follow-up is needed to know whether the state is meeting its obligation in completing required actions.

Working with individual cases has identified a couple of complicators. One is convictions for out-of-state or federal crimes and forgiveness of fees/fines. Where these are present, they may prevent completing the process in Alabama. Another factor has been the suspension of parole board operations for some time due to the state’s reorganizing this agency. A third has been the huge backlog of applications for pardons and paroles. There are some indicators that the backlog may be as much as 3 years to complete processing applications. If so, that backlog could severely retard the process to restore voting rights for many people. It could easily mean that many people who apply won’t be able to vote in the 2020 elections. Finally, we discovered this month that the state has now prescribed specific forms to be used for each action in the process and is requiring applications already submitted on other forms to be resubmitted on these new forms. This requirement could, again, further delay people being able to register to vote. One conclusion is that, realistically, this project may have to take a multiyear perspective, rather than focusing entirely on voters for the 2020 elections.

One bright spot is the possibility of cooperating with local youth groups to help spread the word and reach potential voters. Angie Smith and Jim Williams have contacted the heads of two organizations about helping distribute flyers into neighborhoods. Leaders of both groups seem receptive, although details must be worked out. Everyone involved seems to see this as a win-win situation. Besides helping to reach those eligible to restore their voting rights, engagement in this effort can help the young people become more aware of how important voting rights are and how people should never take that right for granted.

The holiday season promises to slow progress, even as urgency of action increases as the 2020 campaigns and elections come closer. Several members of the executive committee met on November 25 to review where we stand and how to move forward. Committee members agreed overall that it would be hard to get many people’s attention on this issue between now and early January.

One suggestion was to take advantage of events like the last football games and Christmas parades to hand out flyers. The shortage of volunteers and some doubts about how receptive people would be to approaches in these contexts led to not adopting this proposal. The committee decided to focus on several, related events in January and beyond. These are the Martin Luther King holiday in January, Black History Month in February, and Juneteenth. It also seems unlikely that many churches would respond to requests for announcements, putting flyers in their bulletins, or having people hand out flyers after services. The committee also decided to revisit buying yard signs as a way of helping draw attention to the issue. Size and cost became a concern. Smaller campaign-type signs might not be readable from a passing vehicle, but costs rise quickly with larger sizes. Some fundraising may be necessary. We will continue contacts with youth groups, fraternities, and other organizations to develop cooperative efforts and expand outreach.

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