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No consensus from state Senate panel on restoring nonviolent felons’ voting rights

Maggie Lee
The Wednesday Capitol meeting of the Georgia Senate Study Committee on Revising Voting Rights for Nonviolent Felony Offenders. Credit: Maggie Lee The Wednesday Capitol meeting of the Georgia Senate Study Committee on Revising Voting Rights for Nonviolent Felony Offenders. Credit: Maggie Lee
The Wednesday Capitol meeting of the Georgia Senate Study Committee on Revising Voting Rights for Nonviolent Felony Offenders. Credit: Maggie Lee

 

By Maggie Lee

A split panel of state senators recommends that the Georgia Senate change nothing about the disenfranchisement of folks who are on parole or probation for nonviolent felonies.

By a 3-2 party line vote, the Republicans voted for one of two options: the status quo.

The other option was a recommendation to restore voting rights for all felons as soon as they’re out from behind bricks and bars, no matter the crime.

That second option would be a likely non-starter with most Georgians, including himself, said state Sen. Harold Jones II, D-Augusta, a member of the state Senate Study Committee on Revising Voting Rights for Nonviolent Felony Offenders. Though Jones doesn’t like the status quo either.

Jones proposed a middle way modeled on some other states: still no voting for parolees or probationers who were convicted of 127 nonviolent crimes like perjury or forgery. But allow voting rights for folks who are still on parole or probation for other nonviolent felonies, which can include things like shoplifting.

But Jones’ recommendation arrived the the week before the Wednesday meeting, and study committee chair state Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, said he did not think it was proper to add a third recommendation at what he called a late date.

Robertson said Jones’ list would be attached to the final committee report as an exhibit.

“I think what it does do is it allows us to further the conversation,” said Robertson.

Georgia law disqualifies folks from voting if they’re on parole or probation for a felony involving “moral turpitude.” That’s an undefined term that’s found all over Georgia laws and professional rules. So defining it would risk maybe changing interpretations of many laws. In the sense of voting rights, “moral turpitude” has come to cover all felonies.

But Jones wants more granularity: a list of felonies that would or would not disqualify a person from voting while on probation or parole.

Groups like the Southern Center for Human Rights and the ACLU of Georgia have endorsed the approach of making a list, rather than relying on a blanket term like “moral turpitude.”

After the meeting, Jones said a lot of good information and testimony came out of the study committee and he said he will continue working for the passage of his Senate Bill 11. As written, SB 11 would restore voting rights for those on probation or parole for drug felonies, though Jones also said he may amend his bill with a different list of disqualifying crimes to try and get buy-in from colleagues.

Jones said that at most, he thinks the bill could affect 20,000 to 30,000 Georgians, which he said is not enough to swing elections.

“It really is a principle,” Jones said.

The annual state legislative session begins on Jan. 13.

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Maggie Lee
Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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