A small group of Alabama officials is pushing for a clearer legal definition of “moral turpitude,” a change that could restore voting rights to some ex-felons. “When they’ve paid their fees and served their time, they ought to be integrated back into society,” said Secretary of State John Merrill. “Voting ought to be part of that.” Merrill on Wednesday will convene the last meeting of a task force he appointed to study voting rights of ex-felons, and the group is expected to vote on its recommendations for restoring the vote to some former prison inmates. Merrill can’t set the voting rules by himself, but he said he expects them to be filed as bills before the Alabama Legislature convenes next month.
Most states prohibit state prison inmates from voting, according to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Alabama is one of a dozen states that don’t automatically restore voting rights after felons serves their sentence. A handful of states ban felons from voting for life; Alabama will restore the ballot to ex-felons who apply for and get a pardon.
To lose voting rights in Alabama, a person must have been convicted of a crime of “moral turpitude,” but it has often been up to courts to decide what that phrase means. A 2005 opinions by then-Attorney General Troy King, citing past court decisions, listed various violent felonies, fraud-related offenses and drug crimes as crimes of turpitude — but King also declared that “no exhaustive list” of those crimes exists.