Return My Vote initiative to help with voting rights restoration, voter eligibility across Alabama
Alabamians who may be struggling to navigate voting rights restoration and voter eligibility will soon have access to more resources thanks to a new initiative – Return My Vote – set to launch May 16.
“Dr. Fording and GBM realized the need in Alabama for outreach, education and direct assistance to the approximately 300,000 Alabamians impacted by the 2017 changes to Alabama law that greatly increased the number of people with felony convictions eligible to vote,” Dori Miles, voting rights restoration volunteer at GBM, said. “Alabama citizens with felony convictions navigate a complex set of rules and conditions; Dr. Fording and his students, along with other UA faculty and GBM partnered to develop a virtual voting rights website for Alabama where any Alabama citizen can have their questions answered about their eligibility to vote, receive assistance with registering to vote or getting their voting rights back if they’ve been taken away due to a felony conviction.”
Fording called the program a model for how universities can successfully serve the community while providing an important educational experience for students.
Miles said the goal of Return My Vote is to provide easy, virtual access to skilled consultants for Alabama citizens who need help determining their eligibility to vote or to restore their voting rights.
“People in Alabama with felony convictions are eligible to vote,” Miles said. “The common refrain, ‘I can’t vote, I have a felony’ is not true in Alabama. Yes, there are some felony convictions that keep Alabama citizens from voting, but many don’t. People should reach out to us through the website to determine their eligibility.”
Alabama’s process of voting rights restoration can be difficult to navigate, but those who have completed necessary steps can request a Certificate of Eligibility to Register to Vote. The Return My Vote team can help Alabamians with the necessary steps to have their voting rights restored.
“Most of our voting rights consultants will be University of Alabama students who have been trained by us as experts in voting rights law and in navigating Alabama’s criminal records database,” Fording said. “These students will be doing this work as part of a broader course on the intersection of voting rights, civic engagement and criminal justice policy. And, the course will provide unique hands-on experience for students in political science, public administration, criminal justice and social work who are seeking a career in these areas.”
The initiative will be led by UA students who have received extensive training in voting rights restoration in Alabama and are prepared to assist Alabamians who utilize the services. There is an advisory board composed of legal and voter rights experts that will supervise, guide and consult with the students.
“Return My Vote is training a network of civically engaged students in the policy and process of voting rights restoration for Alabamians with prior convictions. Students are trained to use the online judicial database Alacourt to assess the eligibility of those with prior convictions to register to vote in accordance with Code of Ala. § 17-3-30.1,” Sam Robson, lead consultant, said. “Other training topics include fee remittance, ID access, and legal aid resources. Return My Vote consultants work with disenfranchised citizens to create a rights restoration plan and take the appropriate next steps with scheduled follow-up. Many find they are already eligible to vote, and many more are able to become eligible at little to no cost. There is definitely a learning curve to this work, but we have found that it can be successfully taught at scale.”
Those who have questions about their eligibility to vote or need help registering or navigating the voting rights restoration process should go to return-my-vote.com or contact Miles.