Alabama House Judiciary Committee delays bill streamlining voting rights restoration
Some on committee wary of doing away with application process
The Alabama State Capitol as seen from Dexter Avenue in downtown Montgomery, Alabama on January 24, 2023. (Brian Lyman/Advertiser)
The House Judiciary Committee Wednesday delayed a decision on a bill that would streamline the process for those who have served disqualifying criminal sentences to get their voting rights back.
Committee members held off a vote on HB 96, sponsored by Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, that would streamline the voter restoration process after some Republican members of the committee questioned the need for the bill.
“I am trying to understand the reason for your bill to change that,” said Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook. “What is the basis? Is there a problem or issue now that people are not able to (apply)? What is the problem that your bill is fixing?”
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Hall said the bill is intended to remove barriers to voting, and asked why the application was necessary in the first place if people automatically qualify to have their voting rights restored.
Criminal justice reform advocates have been pushing to get some movement on voting rights restoration.
“It would eliminate the application requirement for the certificate of eligibility that requires the Board of Pardons and Paroles to determine whether an individual may have his or her right to vote restored by reason of their conviction,” Hall said.
Voting rights restoration in Alabama often depends on the offense. Alabama does not allow the restoration of voting rights to officials who have been impeached; to those convicted of treason, or to those condemned to death.
Other crimes, including murder, rape sodomy, or offenses related to child pornography, require a pardon from the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles before a person can regain the right to vote.
Hall’s bill targets other offenses, including manslaughter, assault, and kidnapping. A person who has completed their sentence for those crimes must pay off all fines, fees, restitution and court costs, and complete a certificate of eligibility to register to vote (CERV).
Only after they have done that can they apply with the Board of Pardons and Paroles can people complete a CERV application and obtain a certificate to take to the registrar’s office to get a voter registration card.
Hall’s bill would remove the application process and require a Bureau of Pardons and Paroles staffer to review cases to determine if a person is eligible to get their right to vote back.
The legislation would also ease the payment requirements by allowing voting rights to be restored if a person has made payments for fines, fees, court costs and restitution for one year on an approved payment plan. It also alters how the clerk applies the payments so that payments a person makes will go to restitution first, then the fees on the offense that the person lost the right to vote.
Several Republicans objected to the legislation. Rep. Jim Hill, R-Odenville, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, asked what would let Pardons and Paroles know they had to restore a person’s right to vote. Currently, the trigger is the filing of an application with the Bureau. Absent that, there is no review.
That responsibility, according to Hall, would be up to the state of Alabama.
“The Pardons and Paroles review board has the responsibility to know that as well,” Hall said.
Even should that be resolved, some on the committee continued to have reservations about the bill.
“What your bill would do to change the current law, it would take the burden off of the individual, where the individual would have to go through the process of getting approved and getting their rights back,” said Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne. “Now, under your bill, it would put that burden on the state to go through and have to fill out the forms, complete the investigation, complete the process, and go through this.”
Rep. Russell Bedsole, R-Alabaster, suggested that some who are eligible may not want their voting rights restored and said the issue is a matter of educating people about their right to vote instead of focusing on the application.
The bill is scheduled to return to the committee on Wednesday.
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