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June 22, 2010

Disenfranchisement News

International: Refusal to Listen to Court is ‘Morally Inexcusable’
Alabama
: State Officials Still Confused
Florida:
‘The Problem is the Process’
Tennessee
: Major Decrease in Newly Restored Voters
South Dakota
: Settlement Results in Voting Rights Education
National:
Disenfranchisement’s Relationship to Race, Dispariity

International: Refusal to Listen to Court is ‘Morally Inexcusable’

The European Court of Human Rights could award each prisoner £750 or more as a result of a delay in the government’s inaction to lift a voting ban for incarcerated prisoners, according to a Guardian column by Juliet Lyon.

In 2004, the court ruled that it was a breach of the European convention on human rights for the UK to disenfranchise sentenced prisoners from parliamentary and local elections. The ban, however, remains in place.

“The persistence of the ban is not only legally and morally inexcusable but has also undermined efforts of the prison service to rehabilitate offenders,“ Lyon writes.

Alabama: State Officials Still Confused
Advocates in Alabama continue to assert that state and local officials are providing erroneous information about who is eligible to vote, the Montgomery Advertiser reported. As the deadline for voter registration came to a close this month, local minister and voting rights advocate Rev. Kenneth Glasgow said that based on telephone surveys he conducted of county boards of registrars, city and county jails, and state prisons, state officials do not know which felonies disqualify people to vote.

"There is still a lot of confusion on who can vote and who cannot and what crimes involve moral turpitude and what crimes do not," he said. "We find ourselves doing a lot of damage control."

Alabama law bans those who have been convicted of such crimes as murder, robbery, burglary, theft, or sale of a controlled substance.

Florida: 'The Problem is the Process'
Mark Schlakman points out in the Tallahassee Democrat that Sammie Smith, former star running back at Florida State and first-round draft choice of the Miami Dolphins in 1989, recently regained his civil rights with the help of his former coach and supportive family members. 

“A good outcome and equally a good news story, except for the fact that it arguably was necessary for someone of Bobby Bowden's stature and celebrity to weigh in,” Schlakman states in his column.

Problems in Florida’s policy including funding, public safety interests, and the lack of judicial review or legislative oversight, Schlakman says:

“Put simply, the link between civil rights restoration and ex-felon eligibility for various state occupational licenses and jobs that require state certification must be broken. The clemency process was never intended to serve this larger purpose.”

Tennessee: Major Decrease in Newly Restored Voters

Maintaining momentum sparked by a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing, the Commercial Appeal published an article that highlighted a decrease in individuals with felony convictions who have regained their voting rights. In 2009, only 736 Tennesseans’ voting rights were restored, compared to 2,536 in 2008, according to the Tennessee Department of State. 

State law requires individuals who are convicted of a felony to acquire a certificate of restoration, which must be completed by a parole or probation officer and a Circuit or Criminal Court clerk. It is then reviewed by the state election commission for approval.

"Imagine, you're someone who is incarcerated and you don't have the best reading skills and we're asking them to fill out all this paperwork and to go to all these places," said Rachel Bloom of the ACLU.

Stevie Moore, an activist who was formerly incarcerated, is one resident whose rights were restored. He said the law, however, does make things cumbersome.

"All those things keep guys from coming forward and trying to get their life back," he said.

South Dakota: Settlement Results in Voting Rights Education
A South Dakota lawsuit brought by the ACLU resulted in a settlement which now mandates voting rights education to the public and election administrators, the Associated Press reported.

The ACLU, on behalf of two Native Americans who were sentenced to five years probation, sued the Secretary of State and State Elections Board for erroneous removal from voting lists. State law removes individuals who have been convicted of a felony and sentenced to prison from voter registration lists. Once a sentence is complete, voting rights are reinstated.

“We are extremely happy that South Dakota and Shannon County are making a serious effort to educate the public and election administrators,” said Nancy Abudu, staff attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project in Atlanta.  

National: Disenfranchisement’s Relationship to Race, Disparity
Laws restricting voting rights of individuals with felony convictions are not racist or unconstitutional, according to a Los Angeles Times opinion editorial co-authored by Roger Clegg and Sharon Browne.

Commenting on the U.S. 9th Circuit’s review of Farrakhan v. Gregoire, a case that claims disproportionate results prove a violation of federal voting rights law, Clegg and Browne argue that, like every other federal court of appeals, the 9th .Circuit, too, should rule against applying the Voting Rights Act to extend voting rights to people with felony convictions.

“When someone is kept from voting because he has been convicted of a felony, this does not "result in a denial or abridgement of the right … to vote on account of race or color" (to quote the law); it results in the denial of the right to vote because that person has chosen to commit a serious crime against a fellow citizen.”

Issue Area(s): Felony Disenfranchisement
State(s): Alabama, Florida, South Dakota, Tennessee