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Tens of thousands of convicts have the right to vote and may not know

If you've been convicted of a crime and think you lost your right to vote you'd better check again.
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If you’ve been convicted of a crime and think you lost your right to vote you’d better check again.

Laws have changed and a group of women are making their way across the Tennessee Valley to explain them.

Governor Kay Ivey passed a law last year that clarifies which convictions make you ineligible to vote. It means tens of thousands of people in Alabama can restore their voting rights, but only if they know they can.

There are around 50 crimes like murder, sexual abuse, and sexual crimes against children, where your voting rights are gone. But if your conviction’s not on the list you can head to the polls.

“We’ve seen people come in who got picked up for smoking a joint, marijuana, and they lost their right to vote,” said Kathy Jones, the president of the Tennessee Valley League of Women Voters.

Jones said almost 280 thousand people in Alabama lost their rights to vote. She’s helping many of them get that right back.

“They are so thrilled,” she said. “Everybody, when we help them become voters again they’re just so happy. And they walk out with their card that shows them when the elections are and they are dedicated to want to vote in the next election.”

The people at the voter restoration clinic at One Stop Shop said the number of barriers people face trying to re-enter society after prison are even harder to overcome when they have no voice in how the country is run.

“It can be harder to find housing, it can be harder to find a job and a lot of that is because of the way politics are set up,” said Blair Bowie with the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C. “Unfortunately when people who are re-entering society also don’t have the right to vote it’s really hard to make politicians care about their needs.” 

They believe in second chances and so does the Alabama government. The obstacle now is making that known to those who want their voices heard.

“Men and women, young and old,” said Jones. “We’ve even helped some people who are homeless who are wanting to vote because people really want to make a difference.”

There will be another clinic Saturday, May 19 at United Way in Madison County.

See the voting rights restoration activists manual here