Tuesday, July 22, 2008
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) _ After serving eight months behind bars for a conviction of receiving stolen property, Annette McWashington Pruitt was excited about the prospect of being able to vote again.
One of her first stops after being released from prison was the Jefferson County Voter Registrar's Office. But she was told she was a convicted felon and couldn't vote.
"I couldn't believe it," Pruitt said. "They continued to give me numbers to call. It was very much demeaning."
Now she has gone to court to try to get her right to vote restored.
On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in Montgomery Circuit Court on behalf of Pruitt and two other ex-felons seeking restoration of their voting rights. The lawsuit claims Alabama law is unclear on the subject, citing a bill passed by the Legislature in 2003 that says felons can vote unless convicted on "crimes of moral turpitude," but never defines those crimes.
The Legislature adopted a list of 15 crimes, including murder, treason and some sex crimes, that would exempt a person from having their voting rights restored. But the lawsuit says it's up to the state's voter registrars and the attorney general to decide in other cases if a person's rights can be restored.
"Two voter registrars might come to different conclusions," said Sam Brooke, an attorney for the ACLU.
The lawsuit asks that convicted felons not be denied the right to voted unless they were convicted of one of the crimes on the list adopted by the Legislature.
The lawsuit also asks that the state not deny a convicted felon the right to vote because they have not paid all court ordered fines and restitution. Brooke said that requirement makes it easier for convicts from wealthier backgrounds to get their rights restored.
"We believe this is a modern day version of the poll tax," Brooke said. [Mark Godsey]