MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill Tuesday that would create a definite list of the felony offenses that would lead to the loss of the right to vote.
"The point is to make sure people are voting," said Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, sponsor of the bill. "It's to make sure we're not keeping people from voting who should be voting."
Alabama's 1901 Constitution prohibits voting by anyone who has committed a felony crime of "moral turpitude," but it doesn't define those crimes further. Lawmakers said some county registrars interpret the wording to mean any felony conviction blocks someone from voting. Others use a limited list of offenses identified in a past court case.
The bill by Jones, which passed 99-1 identifies 38 offenses that would block any Alabama resident from voting, including murder and rape, drug and terrorism charges, theft and bigamy.
Members of the black caucus in the Legislature have long maintained that the state's strict rules on ex-felon voting, combined with a high incarceration rate, have disenfranchised thousands who would be able to vote in other states.
Democrat Chris England of Tuscaloosa said the bill was one that Democrats felt uneasy about initially — because it was a voting-related bill by Republicans — but one they should support.
"It you commit an offense that's not on this list, all you have to do is ask and get your rights restored," England said.
The bill was one of seven election-related bills on the House agenda, all sponsored by Republicans, that were on the House agenda Tuesday. A few were hard-fought by Democrats, who filibustered the bills into the late evening.
"This is nothing more than an effort to suppress the vote," Rep. Artis J. McCampbell, D-Demopolis, of a bill that would require voters to show a photo ID to obtain an absentee ballot. Alabama's voter ID law already requires voters to submit a copy of a photo ID with an absentee ballot when they cast their vote.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Reed Ingram, R-Montgomery, said the bill was intended to combat absentee ballot fraud.
"This is just another layer of the onion to make sure we don't have voter fraud in the state of Alabama," Ingram said.
After lengthy debate on Ingram's bill, House members voted to carry it over to a future day for consideration, a small victory for filibustering Democrats.
Democrats won another small victory when Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia Hills, agreed to postpone debate of a bill that would have required voters to register at least 30 days prior to an election. State law now requires registration at least 14 days before an election.
It's unclear when either of those bills will return to the House, but their time to pass is limited. Tuesday marked the midway point of the Legislature's 30-day session.