Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Felon Voting Ban Questioned; ACLU Wants 'Moral Turpitude' Crimes Listed

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Felon Voting Ban Questioned; ACLU Wants 'Moral Turpitude' Crimes Listed

Article excerpt

Byline: JAKE ARMSTRONG

ATLANTA -- The Georgia Constitution is clear on the issue: Anyone convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude cannot vote until they complete their sentence and pay all associated fees and fines.

But voting rights groups say the state has yet to produce a list of which felonies fall under that definition.

The Secretary of State's Office interprets the term as applicable to all felonies.

The result, the American Civil Liberties Union says, is disfranchisement of about 283,000 felons, and disproportionately so among blacks, who represent more than half of that figure.

For blacks, a population with historically low voter turnout, the interpretation further diminishes political involvement at the polls, according to Nancy Abudu, staff counsel for the ACLU Voting Rights Project.

"Given disparities in race and class, the population it affects the most is also the population that is also disparately impacted by criminal justice," Abudu said.

The Secretary of State's Office says it is simply following the law.

"We follow the Georgia Constitution and legal precedent," spokesman Matt Carrothers said.

But the ACLU wants the General Assembly to whittle down the state's broad interpretation of the law with a list of felonies of moral turpitude, according to Abudu. "The problem is, if the legislature meant all felonies, they could say all felonies," she said.

Lawmakers in other states, such as Alabama and Alaska, have defined which specific offenses are crimes of moral turpitude, Abudu said.

Courts have defined the term moral turpitude as acts of baseness, vileness or depravity in a person's duty to society.

But the term has found a perplexing place in the political world, and its application to crimes has stirred debate in a number of states.

Alabama served as a recent proving ground for use of the term.

A 1996 amendment to the Alabama Constitution stripped the right to vote from individuals convicted of crimes of moral turpitude until their civil rights are fully restored, said Jean Brown, chief legal adviser to the Alabama Secretary of State's Office. …

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