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Alabama Restores Voting Rights to Some Ex-Prisoners

On June 24, 2003, Republican Alabama governor Bob Riley announced he was vetoing the felons' voting bill passed by the state legislature. The bill would have made it easier for certain felons to have their voting rights reinstated. Alabama law imposes a lifetime ban on voting for any person convicted of felony unless granted a pardon by the state parole board.

Several black lawmakers felt double crossed by the veto. There was an apparent agreement between lawmakers to allow the Republican Voter ID bill to become law in return for the felons' voting law to be enacted. "If there was an agreement among legislators to this effect, I was not part of it," said Riley.

In response to the veto, the reverend Jesse Jackson staged protests at the Staten Correctional Center. Jackson suggested Riley's veto was political. "When the governor wins by 3,000 votes, then locks away 250,000 voters he thinks might not vote for him _that's suspect," Jackson said. As of April, 2003, 62 % of Alabama prisoners were black. Black Alabama voters tend to vote heavily Democratic.

Black lawmakers vowed to reintroduce the felons' voting bill and wasted no time in fulfilling that vow. On September 25, 2003, Governor Riley signed into law a revised version of the bill. The revised bill included provisions to expand the state parole board from three to seven members and created a second three member panel to review requests from state prisoners for parole. The expansion would only last three years. Riley sought the expansion to release 5,000 non violent prisoners in the coming year after voters rejected a tax increase to pay for state functions, including prisons. "This bill allows the state to comply with various court orders mandating that we reduce our prison population," said Riley.

For felons, the bill requires the Parole Board to give a "certificate of eligibility to register to vote" to a felon who: Has completed a criminal sentence or been pardoned; has no pending felony charges; has paid all fines, court costs, fees and victim restitution ordered by the sentencing court; and has not been impeached or convicted of murder, rape, robbery, sodomy, sexual abuse, incest, sexual torture, treason, or any of several crimes involving sexual material.

"If you've served your time, then I think you ought to get your voting privileges back," said Senator E.B. McClain, D-Midfield. The new law does exactly that for the qualifying felons it affects.

Sources: Birmingham News, Birmingham Post-Herald, AL-COM. news

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