Local man knows the importance of understanding Alabama’s voter restoration law

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Monday, November 27, is the deadline to register to vote in Alabama's U.S. Senate Special Election. For some people, this is the first time they will vote since receiving a felony conviction or serving time behind bars.

Mark Irby won't miss an election anymore, he understands the importance of the right to vote.

"I missed out on four presidential elections," Irby explained. "It could have made a difference in the elections in who is actually in office."

Irby is an Alabama resident who was illegally denied his right to vote at his polling place back in 2004.

"I was told when I went to vote that I was unable to exercise my voting rights because I had a felony, which at the time was illegal because my felony did not fall into the category where I would be unable to vote," Irby explained.

This was a problem in the state prior to the law put in place this summer.

"Up until this summer, the state denied people the right to vote if they had been convicted of a disqualifying felony," said Blair Bowie with the Campaign Legal Center. "They never actually defined what the disqualifying felonies were, so it was up to the individual registrars to decide if a certain person could vote or not."

Unfortunately, it silenced the voice of tens of thousands of people, according to the Campaign Legal Center. Now, the list of who can and cannot restore their rights to vote based on convictions is clear.

"It's really important that people check the list to find out if they're eligible to vote, and that they exercise their right if they are eligible," Bowie said.

The new law created a list of around 50 disqualifying felonies. If you have not been convicted of a crime on that list, you never lost your right to vote, even if you have been wrongfully told in the past that you did lose it. Some common convictions that are not on the list of disqualifying felonies, and therefore do not take away the right to vote, include most drug-related crimes and unlawful possession of a firearm.

If you do have a disqualifying conviction, you may still be able to restore your rights by applying for a Certificate of Eligibility to Register to Vote. If you haven't been convicted of one of a small number of crimes, like sex crimes or murder, and you don't have any felony charges pending, you have completed your sentence and you are without fines, fees or restitution from a disqualifying conviction, then you can apply to vote.

You may apply for your right to vote by visiting your local state probation and parole office.

"It's really important that everyone who has this right, gets registered and exercises their right," Bowie said.

If you, or someone you know, have questions about your voting rights, visit bit.ly/restorethevote.