(Chris Maynard/The New York Times)

Activists gather to push to restore Georgia felons’ voting rights

Activists gathered Tuesday to call for lawmakers to restore voting rights and expand expungement for convicted felons.

“We have to remember that voting is a right. It is not a privilege, it is something we are all born with,” said John Paul Taylor, field director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy group.

Under Georgia law, people convicted of crimes of “moral turpitude” cannot vote until they have finished their parole or probation and paid off fines after their sentences end. The law doesn’t describe what “moral turpitude” is, so all convicted felons have to abide by these requirements.

State Sen. Harold Jones, D-Augusta, spoke at the event about Senate Bill 11, which would define moral turpitude and restore voting rights for people convicted of some nonviolent felonies after they completed their prison sentences.

“For example, if you are convicted for possession of cocaine, you don’t get to vote,” Jones said. “But if you have DUIs that put people’s lives in danger, you get to vote. There’s no rhyme or logic to that.”

State Rep. Gregg Kennard, D-Lawrenceville, spoke in favor of House Bill 528, authored by state Rep. Mandi Ballinger, R-Canton. The bill would allow people convicted of certain misdemeanors and felonies to request that the record of those offenses be sealed so that employers and landlords would not have access to them. Whether the request would be granted would depend on the severity of the offense and the age the person was when he or she committed the crime.

State Rep. Kim Shofield, D-Atlanta, said, “We have all done things, and once you have satisfied the requirements, I believe it is a human value to restore you into the community.”

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