When we met Miss B at the Jefferson County Courthouse in downtown Birmingham on Monday, she was joyful and excited. She was about to turn 64 and thrilled to be voting for the first time. More than 20 years ago, Miss B had been convicted of several property theft crimes and even though she had satisfied all the terms and conditions of her sentences, Alabama’s harsh felony disenfranchisement laws continued to bar her from voting. In 2017, Alabama’s laws changed in a positive direction, to an extent, and Miss B became one of the estimated 250,000 disenfranchised Alabama citizens eligible to restore their voting rights.
In July, Miss B attended a GBM voter registration event where we walked her through the process of filling out and submitting an application for a Certificate of Eligibility to Register to Vote (CERV). The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles (BPP) has 45 days to review the application once they receive it. Applicants like Miss B who have past felony convictions that disqualify them from voting, but have completed their sentence(s), finished probation or parole, paid all fines, fees or restitution imposed at the time of conviction, and have no felony charges currently pending, must have their applications granted and CERVs issued. Unfortunately, we learned from Miss B’s case (and others), that dealing with the BPP can truly test one’s patience. In this case, they initially claimed not to have received Miss B’s application. So, we submitted it again . . . and yet again. Finally, the BPP acknowledged receipt and the 45-day clock started ticking. With each follow-up call we made to determine the status of Miss B’s application, the BPP would only confirm that her application was pending. On day 45, BPP conveyed the great news that Miss B’s voting rights had been restored. We then waited more than a month for her CERV to arrive in the mail. Miss B would have to show the actual CERV to the Jefferson County Registrar’s office to be able to register. We were jubilant when it finally arrived!
Miss B then determined she would prefer to vote early as an absentee voter, in-person, at the courthouse…and asked if we would accompany her in case she needed help. We were delighted. With the GBM Voter Guide in hand, we arrived at a crowded Room 500 abuzz with energy. Miss B filled out her application for an absentee ballot and returned it to the absentee election officials. Her name was called and the officials handed Miss B her ballot. We stood by her as she marked her choices. She placed her ballot in the “secrecy” envelope and then the “affidavit” envelope and returned it to the election officials to be witnessed. Miss B then dropped her ballot in the secure metal ballot box and thanked the election officials. When she shared that she was voting for the first time, smiles, congratulations and blessings abounded! As we exited Room 500, Miss B’s 18-year-old grandson met her and proudly congratulated her. He mentioned that he too would be voting for the first time. We asked Miss B what had motivated her to reclaim her right to vote and she said, “All this time, I’ve been existing. I want to live; there’s a difference. Voting lets me feel like I’m living.”