Democratic state lawmakers in Georgia have filed legislation that would allow people with felony convictions to vote.
The bill is being sponsored by Atlanta Democrat state Rep. Josh McLaurin, who says the current laws have racist roots.
“Over 200,000 of our fellow citizens in Georgia are denied [voting rights] because of a racist policy that was enacted nearly 150 years ago,” McLaurin told reporters at a press conference, as reported by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
“After the Civil War, Georgia adopted a policy of disenfranchising people convicted of felonies as a strategy to exclude Black people from participating in democracy.”
The state’s Constitution currently says people who have been convicted of a “felony involving moral turpitude,” aren’t eligible to register to vote until their sentences are completely served. This includes finishing probation, parole, and paying any fines.
Though interpretations of what counts as “moral turpitude” is left undefined in the state Constitution, it’s long-been interpreted as meaning all felonies prevent voting rights.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger provided clarification ahead of the November election, stating that people who had finished their sentences, but still owed court fees or restitution were eligible to vote.
A timeline for when the bill would become law is uncertain. In 2019, a bipartisan committee weighed the possibility, but ultimately decided it wouldn’t push further.
Republican state Sen. Randy Robertson says part of the reason was consideration of victims.
“What always gets lost in these discussions is the victims of the crime,” Robertson, who also a former police officer, said. “All we’re asking that the convicted to do is just to once you complete your sentence, then your voting rights are restored in Georgia.”
In Florida, similar legislation has been highly-contested and confusing as legal battles to define and redefine the parameters of reinstatement continue to be redrawn or undetermined.
McLaurin’s proposal, he believes, is the “morally and legally” correct thing to do. “They’re framing the question in a way that was handed to us, again, by racist design centuries ago,” he said.
“The real question is, are these people citizens and, as citizens, do they have the right for their voice to be heard by elected officials? And the answer to that is yes.”
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