“Purposeful racial discrimination” is the phrase Justice William H. Rehnquist used in 1985 when the Supreme Court struck down a provision in the Alabama state constitution that stripped voting rights from people who commit crimes of “moral turpitude” and other offenses.
Nevertheless, the Alabama legislature in 1996 passed a law that similarly denied voting rights to people convicted of felonies “involving moral turpitude,” a problematically vague term that gave local registrars discretion to determine who belonged on the rolls and, thus, opened the door to bias.
With the state facing another lawsuit alleging racial discrimination, the legislature in May passed a Republican-sponsored bill that clearly stated which criminal convictions would cost felons the right to vote and which would not. For example, crimes such as murder, rape and “enticing a child to enter a vehicle for immoral purposes” would result in the loss of voting rights; offenses such as drug possession or third-degree burglary would not.
Alabama's Republican governor, Kay Ivey, signed the bill into law a week later. The clarification meant the restoration of voting rights for tens of thousands of people.
Fast-forward six months: “Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade on Thursday told viewers that “Democrats have a new secret weapon to win the hotly contested Alabama Senate race: convicted felons.”
Never mind that the felons' voting rights were restored by Republican lawmakers or that one of history's best-known conservative Supreme Court justices determined 32 years ago that bigotry had motivated Alabama's sweeping disenfranchisement. On “Fox & Friends,” the right of certain citizens to vote was presented as a nefarious “secret weapon” of Democrats.
Later in the show, co-host Steve Doocy delivered this report:
Alabama’s special election between Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore could come down to convicted felons. A last-minute push by Democrats in that state is happening right now to get as many felons registered to vote, come December the 12th. Pastor Kenneth Glasgow is one of them who is heading the statewide effort to get felons registered before the deadline. Glasgow claims to have registered up to 10,000 felons so far. How many will vote? Don’t know.
As Doocy spoke, the image at the top of this article appeared on screen, showing Glasgow flanked by two other unidentified black men.
Doocy's report was partly inaccurate, partly misleading and perfectly in line with a Moore campaign talking point.
Doocy's claim that registration of felons is “happening right now” was untrue. The registration deadline was Monday.
And his characterization of the registration effort as a “last-minute push by Democrats” was highly misleading. To reiterate: Republicans led passage of the law that made these registrations possible.
Glasgow is a Democrat, but he has advocated voting rights for felons of all political persuasions for many years. In a 2008 profile, the New York Times wrote that Glasgow “says his main goal is not to aid his party but to help former inmates become productive members of society.”
This isn't a new crusade aimed at defeating Moore; it's a mission made possible through a law signed by a GOP governor who supports Moore.
Alabama's previous, broad denial of voting rights to felons disproportionately affected African Americans. The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit that studies incarceration trends, estimated last year that 286,266 Alabamians were disenfranchised because of criminal convictions and that half of them were African American, even though only a quarter of the state's population is African American.