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Local residents prepare to register ex-felons to vote

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Voter rights training

Blair Bowie conducts a training session at Oxford Civic on how to help former felons restore their right to vote. In Alabama alone, more than 250,000 former felons cannot vote. 

A group of local residents took the first step toward helping former inmates restore their voting rights Friday.

“People who have convictions think they can’t vote because the state has told them they can’t,” said Blair Bowie,  founder of the Alabama Voting Rights Project, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. “And, the state won’t correct the misinformation now that the law has changed.”

Under Alabama law, anyone convicted of a crime of “moral turpitude” is prohibited from voting. Until 2017, “moral turpitude” wasn’t defined in law, and nearly all felons lost their right to vote.

The Definition of Moral Turpitude Act, passed in 2017, created a list of 45 convictions that can restrict a person’s voting rights.

“The law once and for all limited the list of convictions that can take away someone’s voting rights,” Bowie said of the Moral Turpitude Act. “It effectively re-enfranchised a lot of people.”

Anyone who has been convicted of a crime not on the list, including third-degree theft and drug possession, can register to vote without petitioning for their rights to be restored; they can even vote by absentee ballot while in prison.

“People with convictions on the list could still get their rights back once they meet certain criteria,” Bowie said.

Bowie said those with disqualifying convictions can submit a “Certificate of Eligibility to Register to Vote” if they meet the criteria.

To submit a certificate, the person must have no convictions in a subset of more serious crimes, which include murder and rape among others. The person must also have no pending felony charges or outstanding criminal restitution payments, and their sentence must be complete, including probation and parole.

Angie Smith, organizer of the training, said the nonpartisan event should “enable us to work in the community to get anyone registered that wants to vote.”

Anniston resident Jim Williams said he believes the information and training should be spread to law enforcement, churches and even barbers.

“We hope to get enough people trained to where we can then expand the reach of this project,” Williams said.

Bowie said the project likes to focus on door-to-door canvassing and phone banks to inform the largest number of people of the change in the law.

Demetric Roberts, a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity, said he is focusing on voter registration drives and clinics to target across demographics. Roberts said the fraternity requires all chapters to hold at least one voter registration drive per year.

“It’s been three years since the law was changed,” Bowie said. “And there are still people who believe they can’t vote because they have been locked up. We are working to change that.”