Some Prisoners Invited to Vote by Absentee Ballot for the First Time This Year

Valentine’s Day took on new meaning Friday as members of five organizations continued their tour to get persons in jail and prison registered to vote by absentee ballot in the upcoming primary and beyond. “What we did (Friday) – and have been doing – is registering eligible voters inside of our jails and our prisons,” said Rodreshia Russaw, co-executive director of The Ordinary People Society. “We have made history in 2020 where it’s actually on the absentee ballot (application) that they can register inside of prison.

“Showing love to these folks is the greatest thing we can ever put out,” she continued. “Not only in Jefferson County but all over the state of Alabama and Southern states. They are not forgotten. Everybody counts. On Valentine’s Day, we will make a mark and continue to exercise their right to vote.” This year, the application for absentee ballots in Alabama added incarceration as an explanation for needing to vote by absentee ballot, meaning prisoners who have not yet been to trial or those convicted of lesser offenses can still vote

Kenneth Glasgow served 14 years in Alabama and Florida on a charge of drug possession. After his release in 2001, he realized he couldn’t vote. His right to vote was restored in 2004. “We’re in court and we just hear our sentence,” he said. “They’re taking away our citizenship. We don’t even realize they just took away our citizenship. That’s what motivated me to get more people their voting rights because we’re the ones who clearly represent taxation without representation.”

Contacted by BirminghamWatch, Jefferson County Circuit Clerk Jacqueline Anderson Smith said each application for an absentee ballot has to be sent separately.

“It has to be one per each envelope we receive,” Smith said. “That is to request the ballot. Then we mail the ballot back to them, based on the information they provided on the application. We also would know what precinct they would be voting in. That’s why we need their address. While they may be in jail, what we want on that application is where they originally voted when they were not in jail.”

TOPS and the other organizations are stepping in to provide postage to return ballots to the circuit clerk’s office.

“The organizations pulled together and we will furnish the stamps,” said Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson, a member of the Black Women’s Roundtable. “It’s being funded by all of the organizations that are standing here – Black Women’s Roundtable, TOPS, National Action Network, NAACP (and) Voices of the Violated Reproductive Justice Project. We all came together and we gave money on the postage.”

Group members said Glasgow’s court victory made Alabama the first state in the nation to provide a reason on the application stating, “I am currently in prison or jail and have not been convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude.” Crimes of moral turpitude include but are not limited to murder, manslaughter, assault, kidnapping, rape, sodomy sexual torture and abuse and enticing a child to enter a vehicle for immoral purposes.

Russaw said news that some inmates could, indeed, vote was well received by those behind bars, adding that nearly 3,000 applications for absentee ballots have been collected.

“People are ecstatic that the law has been changed,” she said. “We’re informing and educating them but more importantly, this now shows true progress to them, that we actually care about them. We’re not just talking about them but we care about them.“Policies are changing around currently and formerly incarcerated people,” she continued. “It gives them their full citizenship. We’ve had folks in here that have registered to vote for the first time in history today, on Valentine’s Day.”


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TOPS is led by Executive Director, Rodreshia Russaw and Prodigal Child Project - Executive Director Kenyetta Rich 




A 17-year-old local advocacy group has new leadership after a purposeful youth movement within the organization.

The Ordinary People Society (TOPS) announced recently that Rodreshia Russaw and Kenyetta Rich have been named co-directors. Russaw and Rich will take over from Tina Glasgow, who has served in the role of executive director for the last five years.

“The time has come for younger people to direct this organization,” Tina Glasgow told the Dothan Eagle Thursday. “They are the ones that need to be heard. When I was growing up, we weren’t allowed to talk. It is time to hear from our youth. They are the ones that can make America great again.”

Tina Glasgow continues to operate Moma Tina’s Mission House under the TOPS umbrella. The mission house serves daily lunches and hot meals for dinner with the help of other community volunteers. TOPS and the mission house also have alcoholics/narcotics anonymous classes, computer skills classes, and mentorship/relationship workshops. The group has organized several community events throughout its existence.

Russaw and Rich are in the process of dividing responsibilities. They said many of the programs that have helped the community will continue to exist, but plan to organize new initiatives as well.

Doug Wynn, chairman of the TOPS Advisory Board, said the timing was right for new leadership. “It is not as if Tina is going away,” Wynn said. “She has been through the fires of getting a grassroots organization going. We just believed it was the right time and we have people right here in this community who are a part of what this organization is doing every day. As some of us get shorter in years, it is time for new voices to come to the front.”

TOPS was founded in 2001 by the Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, who created the organization with two main prongs – community assistance and political activism. Glasgow was instrumental in changes to Alabama law that returned voting rights to some ex-felons and has advocated for similar rights in other states. Glasgow gave up the title of executive director five years ago.

Wynn and others connected with TOPS said the announcement of new leadership is about providing fresh perspectives and is not connected to Glasgow’s charges.