Roy Moore, the Republican nominee for an Alabama U.S. Senate seat, accused Democrats on Tuesday of attempting to register felons in order to sway the special election to his Democratic opponent. What he failed to acknowledge is that the new voters are all people who have done their time or are in the process of paying their debt to society, and now have had their right to vote restored by the Alabama Legislature. At the turn of the 20th century, Alabama passed a law blocking anyone convicted of a crime of moral turpitude from casting a ballot, a measure that was used largely to keep African-Americans off the voting rolls. After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the lawin 1985, the state narrowed its scope to felonies of moral turpitude and reinserted it in the state constitution.
But that state never provided a clear definition of what those felonies were. The ambiguity left local election officials with broad discretion to decide what crimes would block people from voting, and the law was applied inconsistently across the state. Last year, Alabama was sued on the grounds the law was unconstitutionally vague and racially discriminatory.
In May, Gov. Kay Ivey (R) signed a new law passed by the Republican-controlled legislature defining 42 crimes ― including murder, kidnapping and rape ― as felonies of moral turpitude. The clarification meant that many people who may have been told they couldn’t vote in the past were now clearly eligible. But Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R) said his office didn’t have to take any special action to educate people about the la