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Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in Alabama

Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in Alabama

Published: March 27, 2014

Current Felony Disenfranchisement Law

Under Alabama law, people convicted of felonies involving “moral turpitude” are disenfranchised for life unless the state Board of Pardons and Paroles restores their rights.

Legislative advocacy

In collaboration with the Alabama Alliance to Restore the Vote, the Brennan Center drafted a bill, introduced in January 2006, that would: (1) restore voting rights to people with felony convictions upon their release from incarceration, (2) notify them when they lose and regain the franchise, (3) require corrections officials to assist them with voter registration, (4) mandate information-sharing among state agencies so that names are correctly removed from and restored to voter registration databases, and (5) provide for training and education on the law. In addition, the bill would amend the state’s absentee ballot laws to enable eligible individuals to vote while they are incarcerated before trial or serving time on convictions for non-disqualifying offenses.

The Brennan Center drafted a similar bill in 2005, as well as a model city council resolution in support of the bill. The Alabama Alliance succeeded in persuading the cities of Birmingham and Mobile to pass this resolution.

Implementation of Alabama’s re-enfranchisement law

2006. In February 2006, the Brennan Center and the Alabama Alliance released a report, “Voting Rights Denied in Alabama,” which documents the failure of the state’s existing restoration process. The report is based on data obtained through a public records request filed by the Alabama Alliance and the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund with the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles. The Board is charged with issuing Certificates of Eligibility to individuals who have completed felony sentences and met various other conditions for regaining the franchise. The report shows that the Board is so overwhelmed with applications that, in more than 80% of cases, it misses the statutory processing deadlines, while in other cases, it does not respond at all. This information should help state advocates in promoting legislation to replace Alabama’s cumbersome and expensive restoration process with automatic restoration following incarceration.

Public education efforts

To clarify who may vote according to this complicated law, the Center produced a plain-English brochure, The Voting Rights of People with Criminal Convictions in Alabama, which the Alabama Alliance distributes to members of the public and interested government officials.

We have also helped author op-eds in support of re-enfranchisement. On March 6, 2005, to mark the fortieth anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when Alabama law enforcement officers brutally attacked some 600 peaceful voting rights marchers on the Edmund Pettus bridge, our piece in the Birmingham News explicitly tied the history of race discrimination in voting in Alabama to the current practice of permanent felony disenfranchisement: “It’s not right that 40 years after that ‘Bloody Sunday’ on the bridge, a law that began as part of a post-Reconstruction scheme to disenfranchise black men should still be consigning one in four to permanent political exile.”


In September 2005, the NAACP-LDF filed Gooden v. Worley, a lawsuit that sought to compel the Secretary of State to register eligible Alabama voters. Although Alabama’s Constitution permits people with felony convictions not involving moral turpitude to register to vote, the Alabama Secretary of State had instructed voter registrars throughout the state to refuse to register such persons, unless and until they apply to the Board of Pardons and Paroles for a Certificate of Eligibility. At the same time, the Board took the position that it could not issue such a certificate to people who never lost their right to vote in the first place.

Though the Alabama Supreme Court eventually dismissed the case because the Secretary of State changed her practices, the Brennan Center and its local allies were able to use opportunities created by this litigation to galvanize greater support for reform among the public. The Center, for example, filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of religious leaders in Alabama. United in their belief that felony disenfranchisement offends basic Christian principles, these leaders urged the Supreme Court to consider the case and affirm the District Court’s decision.