Alabama lawmakers have approved a bill that could allow thousands of felons to regain their right to vote. The measure is now before Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, who hasn’t yet said whether she’ll sign it into law.
The bill’s passage through the GOP-controlled legislature comes after voting rights advocates filed a lawsuit last year alleging that the state’s strict felon disenfranchisement rules are racially discriminatory and illegal.
Alabama is one of just 12 states that permanently disenfranchise some or all people convicted of a felony. More than 7 percent of the state’s adult population, and more than 15 percent of its African-American adult population, are barred from voting.
The state’s constitution, a relic of Jim Crow, disenfranchises “anyone convicted of a felony of moral turpitude.” Until now, that’s been interpreted to mean almost any felony. The bill that passed Wednesday would more clearly define “moral turpitude” to refer to fewer than 50 specific felonies. Voting rights advocates estimate that thousands of Alabamians with felony convictions would be re-enfranchised as a result.
In a statement, Danielle Lang, a lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center which filed the lawsuit, called the bill “a step in the right direction,” and urged Ivey to sign it.
“But,” Lang added, “the bill does not fully resolve Alabama’s deeply troublesome felony disenfranchisement laws. The process is still inherently racially discriminatory and overbroad.”