[ Kevin Krajick points out in the Washington Post (18 June) that
4.7 million Americans … are barred from voting because they have felony records. This includes not just prison inmates (48 states), parolees (33 states) and probationers (29 states) but also a large number of people — one third of the disenfranchised in all — who are off parole and “free.” [T]hese state laws … deny 13 percent of African American men the vote….
According to one convincing study done at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis, George W. Bush would have lost Florida by 80,000 votes in 2000 had ex-felons been allowed to vote — even assuming most of would not have bothered to vote and a third would have voted Republican.
The Post piece alludes to Alabama Republican Governor Bob Riley, who last year favored a bill to “restore felons’ voting rights after their sentences are completed.” The state Republican Party opposed the bill.
“There’s no more anti-Republican bill than this,” [Alabama Republican Party Chairman Marty] Connors said. “As frank as I can be, we’re opposed to it because felons don’t tend to vote Republican.”
Riley is the governor who opposed his party, saying his Christian faith led him to support “tax relief for the poor while raising taxes on Alabama’s wealthiest residents and big landowners.” –BL ]
Felon voting bill ensnares Riley: Governor would defy GOP if he signed it
22 June 2003 | Birmingham News [Alabama]
by KIM CHANDLER
MONTGOMERY – Republican Gov. Bob Riley is in a tug-of-war over a bill that would help felons vote again. He’s caught between his own party and the black Democrats whose support he needs for his $1.2 billion tax referendum.
Republican lawmakers and the state GOP chairman are urging Riley to veto the felon voting bill that legislators approved Monday. They say it runs counter to GOP ideals.
Black lawmakers say they would consider a veto a slap in the face, and it would dampen their enthusiasm for helping Riley with his already-risky Sept. 9 tax referendum.
“He’s in quite a pickle,” said David Lanoue, chairman of the political science department at the University of Alabama. “He certainly needs the African-American vote to turn out and support him in September.”
Riley has until Thursday to sign the bill. His press secretary, David Azbell, said Friday that the governor was undecided about it. The governor leaves today for an industry-hunting trip.
Lawmakers on Monday approved two voting bills: One, backed by Republicans, would require voters to show identification before casting ballots. One would restore felons’ voting rights after their sentences are completed.
The two bills traditionally had traveled in tandem in the Alabama Legislature, always dying, until their passage this year. That landed the bills on Riley’s desk and began his dilemma.
“It will be like a breach of trust if he doesn’t sign it. It will destroy his relationship with black legislators,” said Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, who supported the restoration of voting rights for felons.
“Black legislators would probably take a nonchalant attitude to the tax package. They’ll support it, but there won’t be any fervor, and Riley needs all the help he can get, because his traditional base isn’t supporting it,” Rogers said.
Republican lawmakers sent Riley a letter last week expressing opposition to the felon bill. Alabama Republican Party Chairman Marty Connors called Riley, arguing for a veto.
“There’s no more anti-Republican bill than this,” Connors said. “As frank as I can be, we’re opposed to it because felons don’t tend to vote Republican.”
Lanoue said signing the bill might hurt Riley some, but not much, in September.
“The sort of angry white-guy vote that would be angry about these sort of things isn’t going to be voting for the referendum anyway,” he said.
The political risk comes in when he’s up for re-election in 2006 and must face conservative voters in the GOP primary, Lanoue said.
Riley’s proposed $1.2 billion tax and government accountability package will go before voters Sept. 9 in a single yes-or-no vote. A cornerstone of the package is tax relief for the poor while raising taxes on Alabama’s wealthiest residents and big landowners. To get it approved, Riley will need support from black voters.
Connors acknowledged his Republican governor was in a political dilemma.
“Of course it’s a tough decision. He’s going to have a substantial black vote to pass this tax plan. Everybody knows that,” Connors said.
Speaker of the House Seth Hammett and Senate President Pro Tempore Lowell Barron urged Riley to approve the bill. Hammett said the felon bill had been considered part of a package in the Legislature with voter ID.
Rep. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, who signed the pro-veto letter GOP lawmakers sent Riley, said he did not feel the bills were linked.
Alabama is one of a handful of states that do not automatically give felons their voting rights back at the end of their sentences.
The approved bill would make the Board of Pardons and Paroles start giving former prisoners certificates of voter registration eligibility within 60 days of completion of their sentences. It would then be up to the former inmate to register to vote. The bill would not apply to anyone convicted of murder, rape and other crimes involving child abuse and pornography.
Currently, Alabama strips convicted felons permanently of their voting rights unless they receive a pardon with restoration of civil and political rights from the parole board. The board has a backlog of 2,000 pardon requests due to the cumbersome process required. The board supported the restoration legislation.