Written by RMV Intern Shanaya Daughtrey
On Feb. 22, 2022, Greater Birmingham Ministries filed a lawsuit against Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill because his office refused to provide the lists of voters purged from rolls due to previous felony convictions. Consequently, on Oct. 5, 2022, Montgomery federal Judge Myron Thompson ruled that Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill must turn over the records.
As noted in an article published by Alabama Political Reporter, Judge Thompson questioned Merrill’s motivations in denying GBM the records and made it a point to highlight a new requirement for viewing voter rolls that was established by Merrill which included, “either printing out the entire list – more than 100,000 pages in all – or requiring that those who wish to view the rolls come to his office and view them on a state computer while being monitored by a staff member at all times.”
It’s concerning to realize that Secretary Merrill would rather have those interested in viewing voter rolls go through a taxing and futile process instead of simply emailing the requested lists or using a file-sharing system that is well within the scope of capability for Merrill’s office.
With Alabama having some of the strictest felony disenfranchisement laws in the country, the work that GBM and Return My Vote does to register those who thought they couldn’t vote because of a prior felony conviction is crucial. This also speaks to the broader point regarding the reason why GBM needed the lists of voters purged from rolls- to reach out to people who have been disenfranchised due to felony convictions in an effort to bring more Alabamians into the democratic process.
Last year, in partnership with the Campaign Legal Center, Faith in Action Alabama, Alabama’s Poor People’s Campaign, and League of Women Voters Greater Birmingham, GBM and RMV worked in tandem on a text campaign, with the goal of contacting as many people as possible based on the list of disenfranchised voters that RMV received from the Alabama Secretary of State Office as a result of the lawsuit.
The text campaign began on Oct.14, 2022 and ended on Oct.24, and we were able to reach over 17,000 Alabamians.
Wanted assistance with voting rights: 445
Did not want assistance with voting rights: 148
Already restored: 58
Not already restored: 123
Permanently disqualifying conviction:2
Not permanently disqualifying conviction: 62
Disqualifying conviction: 93
No disqualifying conviction: 26
Owes LFOS (Legal Financial Obligations): 29
Does not owe LFOs on disqualifying conviction: 32
CERV eligible: 27
Not CERV eligible: 27
When asked about her experience working as a volunteer for the campaign, RMV student leader, Maddie Minkoff said, “The texting campaign honestly went much better than I expected. We had
more responses from interested people than I was anticipating, and I was able to connect people with the resources they needed to restore their voting rights.”
When considering how many Alabamians are excluded from the voting process due to lack of awareness or confusion about felony disenfranchisement, that makes the work that CLC,FIAAL,LWVGB, AL PPC, GBM, and RMV, do that much more meaningful.
“The texting campaign reaffirmed a lot of what we already knew and suspected, which is that many Alabamians have either been wrongly disenfranchised or are unaware of their rights when it comes to voting,” said Minkoff. “This makes me feel like this voting rights restoration work is so important and we need to do everything we can to spread awareness about the confusing state of felony disenfranchisement in Alabama.”
Based off the success of this collaborative campaign between the CLC, FIAAL, LWVGB, AL PPC, GBM, and RMV, there will be a second phase of this texting campaign that will include volunteers from each organization.