How about paying $50 a month in restitution for 73 years and you still can’t vote?

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Greg Markley

By Greg Markley

A guy goes into a bar and sits down with his Alabama voter registration form. He doesn’t see a description of exactly what crimes may keep him from voting, so he doesn’t put on the form that he has a criminal record. He is okay with all the other requirements and earns his right to vote … but …

This man later finds out that his theft of lost property, 1st degree, is a crime of moral turpitude. This means a crime, generally, that is “an act or behavior that gravely violates the sentiment or accepted standard of the community.” Oops! Talk about fraudulent voting.

Good news: That nightmare scenario will not happen here. A recent ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama-Northern Division said that our state’s current voter-registration application meets the public’s needs and complies with federal law. The Alabama form lists qualifications needed to vote right up top—not easily missed.

Also, moral turpitude crimes are listed online, on the back of absentee ballot applications, and through information given to the Board of Pardons and Paroles, etc. Moral Turpitude includes murder, assault, treason, aggravated thefts by deception and 56 more.

“In 2017, our office worked with the Alabama Legislature to clearly define the crimes of moral turpitude, which upon conviction, prohibit an individual from being eligible to vote,” said Secretary of State John Merrill. “In defining the 60 crimes of moral turpitude, we created a consistent standard among all 67 counties, as opposed to leaving the interpretation up to each county’s Board of Registrars.”

Here’s my rant: I am increasingly upset about citizens saying the government — local, state or federal — does not adequately inform them. An Army major on his way to Bosnia in 1995 told me “I heard about this deployment just three days ago.” Did this guy never learn how to ask questions at Command and General Staff College or at basic training? Goodness.

People often say they never hear of such-and-such a government meeting in Opelika or Auburn. Yet, staffers at both cities get the word out very well through traditional and social media. Too many Lee Countians forget their due diligence in civic life; they complain too much.

Thompson v. Alabama continues, with Treva Thompson of Huntsville among the plaintiffs. A 49-year-old African American woman, she was disappointed in May when a federal court struck down a Florida law that would prevent certain voters from voting. Judges said that even non-violent citizens, who cannot pay their legal bills, cannot vote until debts are paid off.

At $50 a month, Thompson will pay off her legal debts in 73 years. But she may be unable to get to vote then because of health issues! Her conviction for theft is under the category of moral turpitude, under the Felony Voter Disqualification Act of 1975 (Amended in 2017). A Washington, DC, advocacy group called Campaign Legal Center has been assisting the plaintiffs in Thompson v. Alabama.

“Citizens with these disqualifying convictions may request to have their rights restored, but only after paying all court ordered fines, fees, and restitution,” said Corey Goldstone, a communications manager at CLC. “They’ve served their time and paid their debt to society, so they should not have their rights denied.”

Situations like those for Ms. Thompson are difficult. Some people say the felons should be denied the vote because they forfeited it when they committed a crime. Others believe the judge or jurors did their job, and that not fulfilling the debt punishment destroys the jurisprudence.

Still others say the convicted may have done the crime when young and stupid; now they are older and wiser. They also contend that high court costs may suppress the votes of African Americans. After all, in 2017 blacks were 12% of U.S. adults but 33% of the sentenced prison population (Pew Research).

Both ideas above — let them fulfill their sentence or let them get a break and vote — have merit. But my middle of the road solution is to set up an individual plan for the felon, for eventually paying the full debt. Let the non-violent perpetrators vote unless found that they have arrears to the state. If they fall well behind in payments, it’s adios voting rights. But at least they will have voted a bit.

A friend of mine from my undergrad days was very far right and not at all inclined to compromise. I, too, was a Ronald Reagan fan, but otherwise a centrist. Once I made the mistake of saying, “A half a loaf is better than none.” He shot back: “Not when it’s a stale loaf!” Still, we must come together somehow, in issues of voting, if nothing else.

Greg Markley has lived in Lee County for 21 years, on and off. He has master’s  degrees in Education and History. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. He was U.S. Army Europe Journalist of the Year (1993) for articles from Croatia, Germany, and Macedonia.

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