MOBILE, Ala. - Today, the Alabama Voting Rights Project, new voters Rodney Lofton and Rachel Whitley, and Mobile community leaders spoke to the achievements across the state in voting rights restoration and the importance of ensuring every eligible voter in Alabama is registered and can contribute to the democratic process.
Alabama law changed in 2017 (‘The Definition of Moral Turpitude Act’), which re-enfranchised tens of thousands of Alabamians with past convictions. Prior to the clarification, more than 286,000 people were disenfranchised in Alabama, which included 15 percent of the state’s black population and nearly 8 percent of the total state population.
Staff members and volunteers for the Alabama Voting Rights Project (AVRP), a collaboration between Southern Poverty Law Center and Campaign Legal Center, have spent the past nine months assisting previously incarcerated Alabamians in restoring their right to vote.
“To date, the AVRP has assisted 2,000 individuals with voting rights restoration and held events in and reached half of the counties in Alabama. While this is a great success, we still have a long way to go before we reach the tens to hundred thousand Alabamians who received their voting rights back,” said Ellen Boettcher, outreach fellow for the Alabama Voting Rights Project.
“I hope that more people can learn they can have their rights restored, so they can feel what I felt when I voted for the first time last November. Being heard means a lot to me. I’ve experienced many obstacles getting to the ballot box, and I don’t take my voting rights for granted,” said Rodney Lofton, re-enfranchised citizen whose experience voting is profiled here.
“Getting my voting rights back has made me feel like more of a whole person, a whole human being. I feel like everyone should have the opportunity to make a difference in the world we live in and voting is an exciting way to do that. I feel more like a productive member of society,” said Rachel Whitley, re-enfranchised citizen who now works for a re-entry program in Mobile, The Neighbor Center.
“The act of voting is an essential part of American citizenship. If people can't vote, they have no voice in American politics. If they don't have a voice, they don't truly have a place in our society. To truly reintegrate returning citizens into society, they must be able to take advantage of the rights that the people without convictions take for granted every day,” said Terrell Simmons, organizer for a partner organization, The Ordinary People Society.
“The Alabama Voting Rights Project has been instrumental in assisting our clients after they have served their sentence by regaining their voting privileges and fully re-joining their communities,” said Ann Brown, Managing Attorney of Legal Services Alabama. “In many cases, these individuals have turned their lives around and are seeking to become productive citizens. I am glad to be a part of this project to help restore the pride and dignity of Alabamians who have paid their debt to society and wish to move forward with their lives, contributing to their communities through voting.”
“I am deeply concerned that the pillars undergirding our democracy are shifting,” said Merceria Ludgood, Mobile County Commissioner. “For me, nothing is more fundamental to a strong democracy than the right to vote. Denying voting rights to formerly incarcerated persons is a frontal attack on that institution. It is part and parcel of a larger scheme to rebuild barriers to voting that we spent decades fighting to dismantle. As a nation we must never forget Dr. King’s admonition - ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”