Alabama Felony Disenfranchisement and Voter Registration Form Challenge
Thompson v. Merrill
Class action lawsuit filed on behalf of individual plaintiffs who are not registered to vote in Alabama due to a prior felony conviction, Greater Birmingham Ministries and a class of unregistered citizens who are otherwise eligible to register to vote but have been convicted of a felony. The lawsuit — brought against Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R), chair of the Montgomery County Board of Registrars and chair of the Board of Pardons and Paroles — challenges a provision of the Alabama Constitution, Alabama law and the federal and state form used to register voters. Specifically, the plaintiffs challenge the provision of the Alabama that states: “No person convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude, or who is mentally incompetent, shall be qualified to vote until restoration of civil and political rights or removal of disability” (hereafter referred to as “Alabama’s felony disenfranchisement provision”). The plaintiffs allege that Alabama’s felony disenfranchisement provision, which fails to define “moral turpitude,” violates Article I as well as the First, Eighth, 14th and 15 Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
The plaintiffs also challenge Alabama’s Certificate of Eligibility to Register to Vote (CERV) law that allows those with prior felony convictions to regain their voting rights from the Board of Pardons and Paroles, only if they meet a certain set of stringent requirements (including the payment of all outstanding fees and fines). The plaintiffs allege that this law violates the 14th and 15th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution as well as Section 2 of the VRA. According to the complaint “the Secretary of State provides no information whatsoever on its website regarding what felonies it deems disqualifying, nor does it “otherwise explain to voters how they would determine whether their convictions are disqualifying.”
The plaintiffs ask the court to prevent the defendants from enforcing the CERV law and the felony disenfranchisement provision. They also request that the defendants be prevented from “denying any voter registration applications on the basis of felony convictions” and “removing any voters from the voter registration rolls on the basis of felony convictions.” In addition, they request that the defendants “restore Alabama citizens to the voter registration rolls if they were removed on the sole basis of their felony convictions.” Lastly, the plaintiffs request that the court prevent the defendants from denying applications to individuals who fail to pay legal fees and request that the defendants inform those with prior felony convictions that failure to pay fees does not disqualify them from restoring their right to vote.
In 2018, the plaintiffs filed a supplemental complaint that among other claims, alleges that Alabama’s state and federal voter registration forms violate the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) because they do not include a listing of all of the felonies which are disenfranchising under Alabama law. The plaintiffs request that the secretary of state update the federal and state voter registration forms to reflect eligibility requirements.
On Dec. 3, 2020, a judge granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment and denied the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, thereby dismissing the case. The plaintiffs appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and on April 26, 2023, the 11th Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision, thereby dismissing the case.
Case Documents (district court)
Case Documents (11th circuit)