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Changes to voter registration process may be in store

By Beth Clayton
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY–The Senate is expected to vote Monday on a bill that will shorten the time period to register to vote by seven days.

Under current law, voter registration applications are accepted until ten days prior to an election. If HB162 passes, voters will not be able to turn in applications after 17 days prior to an election.

The bill, sponsored by Representative Wes Long (R-Guntersville), has been called voter protection by supporters and voter suppression by opponents.

Long said that this bill was to protect people who have registered to vote to ensure their form is processed or that registration transfers are able to take place before Election Day.

Additionally, Long said that current law requires the forms to be turned in ten days before an election and the probate court to run the list of registered voters in the newspaper 12 days before an election.

This bill requires that forms be turned in 17 days before an election, however it requires the list be finalized and printed 20 days before, which would “give an extra day, and give the office a little more time,” Long said.

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“It’s really about giving them [county registrars] a little more time to double check. It’s not about disenfranchising,” Long said.

Senator Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) addressed the bill during a committee report, saying that he believed it would hurt people’s ability to vote.

While Singleton was speaking, Senator Quentin Ross (D-Montgomery) came to the podium to dialogue with Singleton.

“My question is this,” Ross asked, “how can one dare to carry the slogan ‘We Dare Defend Our Rights’ and on the other side not give people the right to access the vote? Can you answer that question?”

“It seems to be double talk to me,” Ross said.

“That’s just a slogan. It sounds cute. It’s a media kick,” Singleton answered.

“When you look at the legislation that’s passed this session, it’s not about the people of Alabama,” Ross said.

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“They’re going to keep their guns…and they’re going to defend their rights with those guns though…Stick ’em up!” Singleton joked.

After Senator Ross left the podium, Singleton continued to explain his hesitations about the bill.

“Here we are talking about the right of people to vote and the right to participate, and Senator Ross, you were exactly right about that. We dare defend our rights, but instead we want to take away the process by which people can have the right to vote,” Singleton said.

“Is the right to vote part of those rights we dare to defend?” Singleton asked.

Singleton also pointed out that “we are still a section five state,” under the Voting Rights Act, so all election legislation must be cleared by the Department of Justice. “I hope they give this back,” Singleton said.

“I think we need other things to improve our registration offices as far as technology, but since the general fund is in the shape it is, I think this gives them more time,” Long said.

Long said he would support legislation to allow online registration in the future.

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The bill passed the House with 67 yay votes and 34 nay votes. Overall, the votes in the House fell along party lines, with Republicans supporting the bill and Democrats opposing it.

Representative Elaine Beech (D-Chatom) broke with the Democratic Caucus and voted for the bill. Representative Richard Laird (I-Roanoke) voted alongside the Republicans. Representatives Joseph Mitchell (D-Mobile), Demetrius Newton (D-Birmingham) and Randall Shedd (R-Cullman) were either not voting or not present.

The bill received a favorable report from the Committee on Constitution and Elections with three yay votes and two nay votes.

The bill must be adopted by the Senate on Monday to go to the Governor to be signed. If the Senate filibusters keep the bill from coming to a vote, the bill will be dead for the session.

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