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Alabama Prison Voting

The Associated Press State & Local Wire

September 16, 2008 Tuesday 9:06 PM GMT

Ala. inmates registering to vote in prison

BYLINE: By JAY REEVES, Associated Press Writer


Alabama inmates are registering to vote from prison in a precedent-setting
effort organized by activist groups with the blessing of state corrections

Nearly 80 prisoners had filled out registration forms during drives at two
lockups, and organizers plan to help them and hundreds more obtain absentee
in time to vote in the presidential election on Nov. 4.

Laura Schley, 34, has eight months left on a four-year sentence for illegal
possession of prescription drugs. She had a hard time believing she was
registering Tuesday at the Birmingham Work Release Center.

"It just blew my mind," said Schley, who was wearing prison whites. "My
voting rights are very important to me and have been ever since I was 18."

The state attorney general's office issued an opinion seven years ago that
inmates could vote from inside prison using absentee ballots. But confusion and
lawsuits followed over which felons had that right because of a murky phrase in
state law.

Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett said no one previously had registered
prisoners to vote in Alabama .

"It's something that we support and authorized for them to do," said Corbett.

The drive is led by Kenneth Glasgow of Dothan , who served 14 years on robbery
and drug charges and is now a pastor. Glasgow said restoring voting rights is
essential to returning felons to society.

"What we're interested in is not so much the politics but the restoration of
people's lives," Glasgow said.

Glasgow is state coordinator of a coalition that includes the Drug Policy
, which advocates reforms including a move toward treatment rather than
prison time for drug users.

Angela Wright, in the work-release center for cocaine possession, said she
has to study before casting her vote for either Republican John McCain or
Democrat Barack Obama for president.

"I haven't really even been paying attention because I figured it was a lost
cause," Wright said after filling out a registration form.

Studies have estimated that more than 250,000 Alabama residents are barred
from voting because of criminal records.

State law says those convicted of crimes of "moral turpitude" can't vote
unless they have their rights restored by the state. The law does not state
exactly which crimes are bad enough to make that list. Turpitude is defined as
"baseness, vileness, depravity."

The state attorney general's office has said those offenses include murder,
rape, multiple sex and obscenity offenses, burglary, robbery, forgery,
conspiracy to commit fraud, aggravated assault, drug sales, bigamy, impeachment,
treason and transporting stolen vehicles out of state.

Others convicted of lesser crimes such as possession of small amounts of
drugs, battery or attempted burglary are eligible to vote, even from inside

Glasgow, who coordinates a coalition of eight prisoners rights groups, is
registering inmates convicted only of drug possession. He previously registered
hundreds in county jails across the state.

Many convicted on drug charges also were sentenced for other crimes. Prison
system statistics don't indicate how many inmates are behind bars only for drug

Glasgow believes about 3,000 people could be eligible to vote from inside
Alabama prisons, and he plans to register as many as possible in coming weeks.

Completed voter registration forms will be sent to the secretary of state's
office and volunteers will return to state lockups to make sure prisoners cast
their absentee ballots.

"We're not telling them how to vote. We just want to make sure they get them
in the mail," he said.

A Jefferson County judge in 2006 ordered the state to let all convicted
felons vote because the law failed to define offenses or moral turpitude, but
the Alabama Supreme Court overturned the decision.

Prisoner advocates still considered the case a victory because it led to the
state telling county officials that some felons have the right to vote.

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