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Changing the rules on ballot access, can Ward make it happen?

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

According to “Ballot Access News” Alabama has some of the harshest ballot requirements in the United States,  placing 50th in terms of ballot access.

For over a half a decade, Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) has fought first in the Alabama House of Representatives and now in the Senate for greater access in Alabama’s elections.

Ward has two bills pre-filed for the upcoming session, SB 15 and SB 55, that address easier ballot access.

Ward’s bill SB 15 states “Under existing law, to gain ballot access, an independent candidate for office must file a written petition signed by at least three percent of the qualified electors who cast ballots for the office of Governor in the last general election. This bill would reduce the number of names of qualified electors required for political parties and independent candidates for statewide office to gain ballot access.”

Ward said, “This bill will basically cuts the ballot requirements in half from what they are right now.”

Political organizations such as the Constitutional and Libertarian parties of Alabama  complain that current law places the bar of entrée too high for them to run candidates for statewide office.

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Joshua Cassity, Chairman of the Constitution Party of Alabama www.cpalabama.org, said, “A right for a citizen to vote for a candidate of his or her liking is the single handily the most fundamental freedom a person can have. When any government sets restrictions, which limits opposition from running against them, we are no longer living in a cherished republic.”

The bills Ward is sponsoring would make it easier for third party candidate to secure their names on the ballots.

“We should encourage more people to participate in the debate, not less. And by putting restrictions in place we alienate an entire segment of society that can’t participate in the political debate,” said Ward

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Under current Alabama law, ballot access requires signatures of registered voters totaling 3 percent of the votes cast for governor in the last general election for the political subdivision being sought for access. Under this law 44,829 signatures are required currently.

“We are ranked as the strictest ballot access state in the U.S. for an independent or third-party candidate,” said Ward. “Mississippi, right next door is actually one of the easier ones. And so my argument is this, ‘Why should we make it harder for people to get on the ballot?’ We should make it easier for people to run for office, not harder.”

Ward acknowledge that there are arguments on the other side of the issue such as it is best to limit the number of candidates otherwise the elections become too complex and result in voter disinterest or confusion. People often site California which had 137 candidates is its last gubernatorial recall election.

Low voter turnout is thought to be because so many people feel disfranchised by the policies of the two parties. Policies when broke down are exactly alike.

“This is the argument you hear, ‘You don’t want to get the ballot flooded where you have got two or three pages of just one office running where you have 20 different candidates running which was a problem they had in California,’” said Ward.

Cassity said, “I truly believe with open-ballot access you will see higher voter turnout and a return to a government that is ruled by ‘We the People’ and not ‘We the Corporation’  So the people will benefit by taking the ruling power away from two party’s elitist and putting in back in hands of the ordinary citizenry.”

Ward says that  Mississippi has one of the most relaxed ballot access laws in the country and that the state has not seen a flood of independent or third-party candidates.

Cassity said that Mississippi has no ballot access laws at all and that Tennessee  requires only 25 signatures to have a candidates name placed on the ballot.
There is still wide political opposition to opening up Alabama’s elections to such laws as Mississippi and Tennessee.

“Both major parties have traditionally opposed it which I think is a mistake on both sides,” said Ward. “There are those who say you are creating an opportunity for a spoiler, a libertarian or a green party or a constitution party. But the problem is that argument just doesn’t hold water. It’s like they are saying we want to deny people access to the ballot because they might spoil the result for two major parties.”

Ward has sponsored this bill many times only to see it die in committee. “When I was in the House I had it up four or five years in a row and it was defeated back then by then Rules Chairman Ken Guin,” said Ward.

He once again sponsored the bill in the Senate, the Republican -controlled committee did pass the bill but it was never put on the calendar for a vote.

“I think there is a huge hesitancy on behalf of both parties. I think there is hesitancy on behalf of Republicans that are concerned that what you are doing is make it easier for the Constitution Party or Libertarian Party to take votes away from our party,” said Ward.  “And then I think on the Democratic side, they fear too that what you are going to see is folks running as independents on their side and kind of usurping some of their authority.”

Ward says he stands behind the bill even though there are Democrats and Republicans who are against it.

“I think both sides probably have the same argument against it. It is doesn’t make it any less right,” said Ward.

 

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Elections

Alabamians request more than 101,000 absentee ballots with 30 days left to apply

So far, 35,184 absentee ballots have been successfully returned for the general election.

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(APR GRAPHIC)

At least 101,092 absentee ballots have been requested so far in Alabama according to Secretary of State John Merrill, with just 30 days left to apply for an absentee ballot for the Nov. 3 General Election. So far, 35,184 absentee ballots have been successfully returned for the general election.

In order to protect the safety and well-being of voters, Merrill is encouraging those who are concerned about contracting or spreading the coronavirus to apply for and cast an absentee ballot.

Absentee ballot applications can be downloaded online or requested by visiting or calling your local absentee election manager’s office.

Voters may also contact the Secretary of State’s office at 334-242-7210 to request an absentee ballot application.

Due to the declared states of emergency, any qualified voter who determines it is impossible or unreasonable to vote at their polling place shall be eligible to check the box on the absentee ballot application that is most applicable to that individual. In the case none of the boxes are appropriate, voters can check the box which reads, “I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls. [ID REQUIRED]”

For the Nov. 3 General Election, the deadline to register to vote is Monday, Oct. 19, the deadline to submit an absentee ballot application is Thursday, Oct. 29, the deadline to return an absentee ballot to the absentee election manager is the close of business Monday, Nov. 2, and the last day to postmark an absentee ballot is Monday, Nov. 2.

Voters who are eligible to vote pursuant to the Uniformed and Overseas Absentee Voting Act will have until Tuesday, Nov. 3 to postmark an absentee ballot.

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Voters concerned about COVID-19 are encouraged to select the box on the affidavit, which accompanies the absentee ballot, which reads as follows: “I am physically incapacitated and will not be able to vote in person on election day.”

Due to recently witnessed delays with the U.S. Postal Service, Merrill encourages voters interested in returning their ballot by mail to go ahead and make application for their absentee ballot. As a reminder, Merrill worked with the Legislature last year to pass Act 2019-507, allowing voters the opportunity to return their absentee ballot by commercial carrier in addition to U.S. mail.

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Corruption

Former Barbour County sheriff arrested, charged with taking money from sheriff’s office

Upshaw was charged with two crimes connected to taking more than $85,000 from several accounts that belong to the sheriff’s office.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Tuesday announced the arrest of Leroy Davie Upshaw, the former sheriff of Barbour County, on charges that he used his office for personal gain. 

Upshaw, 49, surrendered to the Barbour County Sheriff’s Office on Monday and was released on bond, according to a Marshall’s office. He had served as sheriff until his term ended in January 2019. 

Upshaw was charged with two crimes connected to taking more than $85,000 from several accounts that belong to the sheriff’s office, Marshall’s office alleges. One charge alleges that he used his public office to receive personal financial gain and the other charge alleges that he used his office to obtain financial gain for members of his family. 

The Dothan Eagle reported in 2018 that Upshaw’s troubles began when the sheriff’s office was audited and cited for 11 errors, including one in which Upshaw gave himself the additional salary that had gone to the former work release administrator.

If convicted of the class B felony of using his office for personal gain, Upshaw could face up to 20 years in prison.

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Health

Governor: Alabama will get 1 million rapid antigen COVID-19 tests

The state is to receive the Abbott Laboratories BinaxNow rapid tests in phases over the next few months. The initial shipment is set to include approximately 96,000 tests. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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Abbott’s BinaxNOW™ COVID-19 Ag Card is highly portable, about the size of a credit card, and doesn’t require added equipment. (VIA ABBOTT)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday announced that the Trump administration is to send 1 million new rapid COVID-19 tests to Alabama, but the details on their use was still being worked out. 

Ivey’s office announced in a press release that the state is to receive the Abbott Laboratories BinaxNow rapid tests in phases over the next few months, and that the initial shipment is to be of approximately 96,000 tests. 

It was unclear Tuesday who will get the tests or whether the results will be required to be reported to The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), however. In a statement Ivey said while we await a vaccine “providing Alabamians – especially our students and vulnerable citizens – with this free resource will be another critical tool in the toolbox to combat COVID-19.”

Our Office is working in coordination with Public Health as we firm up plans for distribution. We are working to ensure students and high-risk individuals have access to this resource,” said Gina Maiola, Ivey’s press secretary, in a response to APR’s questions Tuesday. 

Questions to ADPH on Tuesday weren’t immediately responded to. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Aug. 26 gave an emergency use authorization to Abbott laboratories for the rapid antigen tests, which is the first of its kind to require no lab equipment. 

The USDA on Sept. 18 reissued an emergency use declaration, changing wording to say that the tests are to be used “within the first seven days of the onset of symptoms” and that “testing facilities within the United States and its territories are required to report all results to the appropriate public health authorities.” 

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“Studies have shown that antigen levels in some patients who have been symptomatic for more than five days may drop below the limit of detection of the test. This may result in a negative test result, while a more sensitive test, such as RT-PCR, may return a positive result,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in guidance on the use of antigen tests

The Trump administration approved a $760 million contract with the company to produce about 150 million tests. 

“We’ll ship tens of millions of tests in September, ramping production to 50 million tests a month in October,” Abbott Laboratories said on the company’s website

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Other governors were making similar statements Tuesday about pending Abbott Laboratory tests coming to their states. 

President Donal Trump on Monday announced plans to ship 100 million of the tests to states based upon population. 

“Governors have the flexibility to use these tests as they deem fit, but we strongly encourage governors to utilize them in settings that are uniquely in need of rapid, low-tech, point-of- care tests, like opening and keeping open our K-through-12 schools; supporting critical infrastructure and first responders; responding to outbreak, specifically in certain demographics or locations; and screening of surveillance in congregate settings,” said Adm. Brett Giroir, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services official in charge of COVID-19 testing for the White House’s coronavirus task force, speaking with Trump from the Rose Garden on Monday. 

The Abbott Laboratories rapid antigen tests, which use a swab and a small card and can provide results within 15 minutes, have some similarities to existing antigen tests now being used across Alabama, which use small machines to provide quick results. 

ADPH has struggled at times to get results from those existing rapid antigen tests, which are often used in non-traditional lab settings, such as nursing homes, universities and urgent care clinics, some of which aren’t accustomed to ADPH’s reporting process. 

Dr. Karen Landers, an assistant state health officer for ADPH, told Kaiser Health News last week that she was concerned about the undercounting of antigen test results, and that some providers were struggling to submit results.

“We can’t afford to miss a case,” Landers told the news outlet.

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Health

Delayed reporting caused spike in Alabama’s daily COVID-19 count

Two large labs were improperly reporting COVID-19 testing data to the Alabama Department of Public Health, and a data dump from those labs resulted in the state’s largest single day spike in new daily cases on Sept. 25.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Two large labs were improperly reporting COVID-19 testing data to the Alabama Department of Public Health, and a data dump from those labs resulted in the state’s largest single day spike in new daily cases on Sept. 25 when 2,452 cases were reported. 

Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris told APR on Tuesday that once those two labs sent in a mass of old test results electronically to ADPH — almost all of them point-of-care antigen tests — those results caused the spike in new daily cases. 

“ADPH continues to make all efforts possible to identify new labs and bring them into the electronic reporting process in order to capture the positive and negative labs for case investigation and data accuracy,” the department said in a statement regarding the recent data dump.

In addition to the large batch of backlogged positive antigen tests on Sept. 25, the state has also begun including probable tests — largely those positives from antigen tests — in both its statewide and county-by-county data, which APR uses to populate its charts. The state began reporting probable cases and deaths on the statewide level on May 30, and began including those totals in graphs on Sept. 1.

(APR GRAPHIC)

(Because ADPH has been reporting probable cases and deaths since May 30, APR was able to adjust our charts back to May 30 beginning Sept. 1 without the addition of the probable cases causing a huge spike.)

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On the county level, though, probable cases and deaths were not reported at all until Sept. 25, when the full total of every probable case was added to county charts. The addition of those probable cases made some counties appear to have even larger spikes than the statewide increase on Sept. 25, which was already the largest increase to date because of the backlogged positives from the labs improperly reporting positives.

(The addition of the new probable cases have also affected other measures APR calculates based on those cumulative and daily totals including seven-day averages, 14-day averages and percent positivity.)

For example, many counties over the past week have reported more positive cases than total tests, which would be impossible without the data delay and the addition of probable cases. Some counties, like Lee County and Tuscaloosa County, showed such large increases on Sept. 25 that their positive totals on that day alone appear to outmatch the statewide increase.

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That, again, is because the statewide total was already including probable cases beginning Sept. 1 and daily probable data was available back to May 30, but county level data did not include probable cases until Sept. 25.

Harris said it’s not uncommon for some labs to hold off reporting test results for a couple of weeks, then submit them all at once. Smaller commercial labs that don’t amass many tests often wait until a batch has been accumulated to submit. 

Two labs sent in a large batch of older negative test results to the state in August, which skewed charts that use that data to track new daily tests and percent positivity. A similar artificial dip and spike in statewide COVID-19 data in early June was the result of computer system problems.

Speaking on the current state of COVID-19 in Alabama, Harris said “we’re cautiously optimistic about where we are” and noted that unlike the spike in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths statewide after Memorial Day into July, the most recent Labor Day holiday does not seem to have resulted in larger numbers.

“We did not appreciate a big spike after Labor Day, which was very, very encouraging,” Harris said.

Harris noted that the state hasn’t imposed any new restrictions since May, other than the statewide mask order in mid-July, which was followed by a decline of new confirmed COVID-19 cases.

“I will say, we still have room to improve. The hospital numbers now are about half of where they were in early August,” Harris said. “Yet they’re still a lot higher than they were back in the spring, so I wish we would continue to see more improvement, but I think we’re definitely much better than we were a couple of months ago.”

Gov. Kay Ivey’s statewide mask order is set to expire Friday, but Ivey and Harris are expected to make an announcement about whether it will be extended. Harris said Ivey’s coronavirus task force is to have a conference call Tuesday afternoon and that an announcement would likely come soon.

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