Felons can petition to restore voting rights

Published 11:00 pm Friday, March 30, 2012

Once a person is convicted of a felony, some states strip voting rights away permanently. However, in Alabama, some people who are no longer incarcerated can go through a series of steps to restore their voting rights.

In 2003, the Alabama Legislature amended the Code of Alabama to allow ex-felons, with some exceptions, to have those rights reinstated.

“And the law has changed again recently,” said Pike County Probation and Parole Officer Ray Finedore. “If the conviction was for felony possession of drugs, people can register even without a pardon.”

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Felony distribution or sale of drugs still requires an application.

To regain voting rights, a person must apply for a Certificate of Eligibility. Before applying, though, all fines and court costs related to the conviction must be paid and all other terms of a sentence met.

“Basically, if they are off probation or parole, they can come by and fill out paperwork,” Finedore said.

An officer of the state Board of Pardons and Paroles submits an investigation report and recommendation to the executive director of the board and applicants should find out within 50 days of their initial paperwork whether or not they can register to vote.

Another way to regain voting rights, other than a Certificate of Eligibility, is to apply for a full pardon. A pardon restores all civil and political rights forfeited by a felony conviction, not just voting rights.

The process doesn’t cost an applicant any money, but they must have completed three consecutive years of successful parole, give a DNA sample, fill out a personal history form including where they live and work and sign a waiver that an officer can perform a background check. Finedore said those steps were necessary to make sure the person doesn’t have pending charges or is wanted for a crime.

After the investigation is complete and submitted to the Pardon Unit in Montgomery, an open hearing is held.

Finedore recommends starting four to six months ahead of an election to ensure an pardon answer in time to vote.

However, if questions or concerns arise, it could take up to a year for a decision to be made.

People who are not eligible for restoration of rights include those who were impeached or convicted murder, rape, sodomy, sexual abuse, incest, sexual torture, enticing a child into a vehicle for immoral purposes, soliciting a child by computer, production of obscene matter involving a minor, production of obscene matter, parents or guardians permitting their children to engage in obscene matter, possession of obscene matter, possession with intent to distribute child pornography, or treason.

The Pike County Probation Office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is closed from noon to 1 p.m. each day for lunch.