New Georgia bill could expand voting rights for people with felony drug charges

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News 12 NBC 26 at 6

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Georgia lawmakers are considering a new bill that would allow people serving sentences related to felony drug possession charges to keep their right to vote.

In Georgia, the two exceptions to your right to register to vote and vote are if you're person completing a felony sentence or if a judge finds you mentally incompetent.

That means if you're incarcerated, on parole, on probation or even if you have unpaid fees for a felony charge, you're wiped from the voter rolls until you complete your sentence.

"The only exception is those that may be sentenced as a first offender. Other than that. There is no distinction made between the type of felony," said Augusta-Richmond County \ Elections Director Lynn Bailey

Georgia State Senator Harold Jones, out of Augusta, is trying to make that distinction, with Senate Bill 11.

Georgia law specifically states "no person who has been convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude may register, remain registered, or vote except upon completion of the sentence."

Jones says he is trying to define "moral turpitude" as not a person who has been convicted of a drug possession charge only.

"That is the only exception under my bill," said Sen. Jones.

Sen. Jones says his bill would allow people convicted of felony drug possession charges to register to vote, remain registered and vote in elections.

"The conversation nationwide and in the state is that narcotic use, use-only, is more of a health concern than a criminal justice concern. Why are we necessarily preventing those folks from voting," said Georgia State Sen. Jones.

Right now, Georgia is one of 22 states that strips voting rights from convicted felons while they are serving their sentences and them automatically restores them afterward.

In Vermont and Maine are the only two states where felons never lose the right to vote.

Sen. Jones says it's possible more exceptions could be added to the bill.

The bill has been assigned to the judiciary committee and the next step would be getting a hearing from that committee.