Alabama’s policy of stripping convicted felons’ of their right to vote is unconstitutional and steeped in a history of racial injustice, a group of plaintiffs say in federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the law. The Greater Birmingham Ministries and 10 Alabamians who are not allowed to vote because of a past felony conviction filed the lawsuit Monday in Montgomery federal court. They argue that the blanket ban is an unconstitutional infringement on the right to vote, unfairly punishes people long after their sentences are complete and disproportionately impacts minority communities. “It is inextricably tied to Alabama’s long history of denying black citizens voting rights and equal access to the polls, using the criminal justice system to achieve those goals,” lawyers for the plaintiffs wrote in the suit. The lawsuit quoted 2014 statistics from the Sentencing Project that estimated more than 260,000 people were blocked from voting in Alabama. Nearly half of those were African-American and equated to 15 percent of the adult black population. Ten individual plaintiffs are named in the suit but they are asking the court to declare it a class action.
“Today we begin the journey on behalf of a quarter million Alabama citizens who have felony convictions and who have been disenfranchised by this system. Citizens with past felony convictions work and pay taxes, and should have a say in deciding their community’s and the nation’s laws that directly impact their lives,” said Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington D.C.-based group that’s providing lawyers for the suit.
The Alabama Constitution says people convicted of felonies involving “moral turpitude” are no longer be able to vote, although politicians have disagreed through the years over what crimes should be on that list. People who have completed their sentences can apply to the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles to have voting rights restored but only if they have paid all cou