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Bennett Announces that September is National Voter Registration Month

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Monday, September 15, Alabama Secretary of State Jim Bennett (R) announced in a written statement that September is National Voter Registration month and is a good time for citizens who are not registered to vote to do so.

Sec. Bennett said in a written statement, “Whatever the election, whatever the issue, our citizens have the right to express their voice with their vote. It is important to go to the polls on every Election Day and exercise that right.  We want to make sure every citizen who wants to vote is able to. It is also important for registered voters who have moved to update voter registration records with their current address information so that they can be placed in the right districts.”

According to the information provided by the Alabama Secretary of State’s office, Alabama citizens can register to vote at their local board of registrars.  Under federal law they can also fill out and submit voter registration forms at all state and/or county offices that provide public assistance.  In Alabama, public assistance offices, such as Medicaid, WIC, and DHR, must distribute voter registration forms, provide assistance in completing the forms if necessary, and accept such forms. These offices must then forward the forms to the local boards of registrars.

Alabamians can also fill out and submit a voter registration form when obtaining or renewing a driver’s license or when applying for a library card at any county library as well as in many city libraries.

To find a downloadable voter registration forms and absentee ballot applications, or look up your polling place, go to the website: www.AlabamaVotes.gov

You can also call 1-800-274-VOTE.

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To vote in this year’s election you must have a photo ID.

More information about that law can be found at www.AlabamaVoterID.com.

Sec, Bennett said, “Register, vote, and participate in Alabama elections,  One vote can make a difference.”

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Starting with the statewide primary in June, the state is requiring that all voters present valid photo IDs when they come to the polls.  Sec. Bennett said, “We want to make sure that every voter has their photo ID ready, or if they do not have one that will be acceptable at the polling place, that they can get one for free.”

To receive a free photo voter ID, a voter can visit their local Board of Registrars office or the Secretary of State’s office during their weekly hours of operation. There is no cut-off date to receive a photo voter ID card; a voter may receive one up to and on Election Day.

Voters without a valid photo ID on Election Day will have to vote a provisional ballot.  If the voter obtains a photo ID by the Friday following the election, the vote can be counted if the voter takes the photo ID to the Board of Registrars by 5:00 PM on that Friday.  A voter can also receive a free non-driver ID for purposes of voting at any office that issues non-driver ID cards.

Acceptable forms of photo ID include: a valid Alabama Driver’s License, a valid Alabama Non-driver ID, a valid Alabama Photo Voter ID card, a valid State Issued ID (Alabama or any other state), a valid Federal issued ID, a valid US passport, a valid Employee ID from Federal Government, State of Alabama, County, Municipality, Board or other entity of this state, a valid student or employee ID from a public or private college or university in the State of Alabama (including postgraduate technical or professional schools), a valid student or employee ID issued by a state institution of higher learning in any other state, a valid Military ID, or a valid Tribal ID.

If a voter possesses any of these forms of photo ID, they are not eligible to receive a free Alabama photo voter ID card.  The voter must bring one of these photo IDs to the polls on Election Day or place a copy of the photo ID in absentee ballot materials.  No voter should ever be turned away from the polls for not having a photo ID.  If a voter does not have an acceptable photo ID, the voter can vote a regular ballot if he or she is positively identified by two election officials or that voter can vote a provisional ballot.  For more information on the process on how to receive a free photo voter ID, voters can call 1-800-274-VOTE or go to www.alabamavoterid.com.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Infrastructure

Alabama’s Black Belt lacks quality internet access, report finds

Twenty-two of 24 Black Belt counties are below the statewide average of 86 percent of the population who have access to high-speed internet, and two Black Belt Counties — Perry and Chocktaw — have no access at all. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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During an online video briefing Monday on a report about a lack of internet access in Alabama’s Black Belt, University of Alabama student Brad Glover warned reporters that he could get kicked off the briefing at any moment. 

That’s because he was talking during the video briefing by way of audio only, using his cell phone, as he does not have access to high-speed internet access at his Linden, Alabama, home in the Black Belt’s Marengo County. 

The COVID-19 pandemic that sent students home to study online left many in the Black Belt and other rural parts of Alabama in the lurch, without access to the high-speed internet enjoyed by so many other Americans, according to the latest report in the University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center’s Black Belt 2020 series. 

The latest report, titled “Internet Access Disparities in Alabama & the Black Belt,” found that 22 of 24 Black Belt counties, as defined by the Education Policy Center, are below the statewide average of 86 percent of the population who have access to high-speed internet, and two Black Belt Counties — Perry and Chocktaw — have no access at all. 

“It is still a terrible struggle for me to connect to get the things done that are required,” said Glover, who interned with the Education Policy Center. 

Stephen Katsinas, director of the Education Policy Center, said that in the 1930s, nine of ten rural homes lacked the electric service that urban American homes, by that point, had for 40 years. 

“The Rural Electrification Act was passed to address this abject market failure,” Katsinas said. “Today, as the COVID pandemic has shown, access to high-speed internet is as essential to rural Alabama as the REA was in the 1930s. Alabama must directly address the market failures that exist today to bring high-speech internet to every rural Alabamian, so that our rural workforce can access the lifelong learning skills they need, and our rural businesses can compete globally.” 

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The COVID-19 pandemic has also spotlighted the need to expand the growing area of telemedicine. 

Dr. Eric Wallace, medical director of Telehealth at UAB, told reporters during the briefing Monday that patients are largely doing telehealth from their homes, and explained that disparities in access to high-speed internet present a problem for them. 

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, UAB has done approximately 230,000 telehealth visits, and 60 percent of those were done by video,” Wallace said. 

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“Forty percent are audio only, and why is audio only? It’s because we do not have broadband,” Wallace said. “So it’s not just broadband. It’s broadband. It’s tech literacy. Socioeconomics, to have a device in your home. It’s all of that.”

Wallace said that the coronavirus crisis has made clear that telemedicine is a “100 percent necessity” and that patient satisfaction studies make clear it’s not going anywhere. 

The reasons for disparities in access to high-speed internet are myriad, explained Noel Keeney, one of the authors of the report and a graduate research assistant at the Education Policy Center. 

Keeney noted a study by BroadbandNow that estimates there are 154 internet providers in Alabama, but there are 226,000 Alabamians living in counties without a single provider, and 632,000 in counties with just a single provider. 

Even for those with access to internet providers, Keeney said that just approximately 44.4 percent of Alabamians have internet access at a cost of $60 monthly or below. 

“If we really care about our rural areas, we need to make an investment, and it needs to cut off that cost at a very low rate,” Wallace said. 

Katsnias said there’s a growing consensus on the part of Alabama’s political leaders that access to high-speed internet is an important issue, noting that Gov. Kay Ivey in March 2018, signed into law the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act, which has given internet access to nearly 100,000 Alabama students. 

“In March, Gov. Ivey awarded $9.5 million in broadband expansion grants, with a significant amount going to Black Belt communities,” the report reads. “This was followed by $5.1 million in additional grants in May.” 

“The State of Alabama also allocated $100 million in federal CARES Act-related dollars for “equipment and service for broadband, wireless hot spots, satellite, fixed wireless, DSL, and cellular-on-wheels to increase access for K-12 students undergoing distance learning,” the report continues. 

An additional $100 million in CARES Act funds were made available to facilitate virtual learning across Alabama’s K-12 schools, researchers wrote in the report, and another $72 million in federal aid went to the state’s colleges and universities. 

Katsinas said however those federal funds are spent, the state still needs a long term plan for how to address the disparities in access to high-speed internet. 

“We need a long term plan and we need to do what we can do immediately,” Katsinas said

Read more of the Education Policy Center’s reports in the “Black Belt 2020” series here.

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Economy

Governor announces auto supplier IAC plans Alabama expansion

IAC is committing $34.3 million in new capital investment to expand its new manufacturing facility located in Tuscaloosa County.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Gov. Kay Ivey announced Monday that International Automotive Components Group North America Inc. plans to invest over $55.9 million in expansion projects that will create 182 jobs at two Alabama facilities.

“International Automotive Components is a leading global auto supplier, and I am pleased that this world-class company is growing significantly in Alabama and creating good jobs in Cottondale and Anniston,” Ivey said. “IAC’s growth plans show that Alabama’s dynamic auto industry continues to expand despite today’s challenging environment.”

Nick Skwiat is the executive vice president and president of IAC North America.

“Alabama was the logical choice due to its skilled workforce and proximity to the customer,” Skwiat said. “We are excited to see the continued growth of the automotive industry in Alabama and we plan to grow right along with it. We thank the Governor and Secretary Canfield for their leadership in this sector.”

IAC is committing $34.3 million in new capital investment to expand its new manufacturing facility located in Tuscaloosa County. This facility will produce door panels and overhead systems for original equipment manufacturers. That project will create 119 jobs at the production site in Cottondale.

IAC also plans to invest $21.6 million at its manufacturing facility located in the former Fort McClellan in Anniston. That East Alabama project will create another 63 jobs.

This project builds on a milestone 2014 expansion that doubled the size of the Calhoun County facility. There IAC manufactures automotive interior components and systems. Key components produced at the Anniston plant include door panels, trim systems and instrument panels for original equipment manufacturers.

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IAC Group is a leading global supplier of innovative and sustainable instrument panels, consoles, door panels, overhead systems, bumper fascias and exterior ornamentation for original equipment manufacturers.

IAC is headquartered in Luxembourg and has more than 18,000 employees at 67 locations in 17 countries. The company operates manufacturing facilities in eight U.S. states.

“With operations around the globe, IAC is the kind of high-performance company that we want in Alabama’s auto supply chain to help fuel sustainable growth,” said Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield. “We look forward to working with IAC and facilitating its future growth in this strategic industrial sector.”

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Danielle Winningham is the executive director of the Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority.

“International Automotive Components is a valued part of Tuscaloosa County’s automotive sector,” Winningham said. “We are grateful for IAC’s investment in our community and the career opportunities available to our area workforce as a result of their investment.”

“The City of Anniston is excited that IAC has made the decision to expand here. I have enjoyed working with the leadership at IAC, the Calhoun County EDC, and the state of Alabama to get this project finalized,” said Anniston Mayor Jack Draper. “This is even further evidence that Anniston is indeed open for business.”

Only Michigan has more automobile manufacturing jobs than the state of Alabama. Honda, Mercedes, Hyundai, Polaris, Toyota and soon Mazda all have major automobile assembly plants in the state of Alabama.

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National

AUM poll suggests Alabamians divided on prison reform proposals

90 percent of Alabamians favor some type of reform to the state’s prison systems, but there is little agreement on what efforts should be pursued.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Last week, a poll by Auburn University at Montgomery’s Department of Political Science and Public Administration found that approximately 90 percent of Alabamians favor some type of reform to the state’s prison systems, but there is little agreement on which reform efforts should be pursued.

  • 36.6 percent: “Reduce or eliminate criminal sentences for non-violent crimes.”
  • 30.3 percent: “Parole inmates convicted of non-violent crimes.”
  • 25.9 percent: “Increase funding to improve existing prison facilities.”
  • 21.4 percent: “Construct new prisons to be operated by the state.”
  • 14.5 percent: “Contract with private firms to construct new prisons the state would then lease to operate.”
  • 27.5 percent: “Increase funding for prison staff such as correctional officers, healthcare providers, educators, etc.”
  • 15.2 percent: “Increase funding for probation officers.”
  • 9.9 percent: “I support none of these options.”

The totals do not add up to 100 because it was a “select all that apply” poll.

Gov. Kay Ivey’s plan of signing a decades-long lease with private prison contractors was the least popular idea. Repairing the existing prisons 25.9 percent support while constructing new prisons had just 21.4 percent support.

The most popular prison reform measures, according to AUM poll director David Hughes, address prison overcrowding through criminal sentencing reforms.

“Approximately 37 percent of respondents support policies to reduce or eliminate sentences for non-violent offenders, and another 30 percent support paroling inmates convicted of non-violent crimes,” Hughes said.

The governor has included justice reform proposals in her all-encompassing plan. Those proposals were going to be considered by the Legislature in the 2020 legislative session but because of the coronavirus, the 2020 legislative session was cut short and the Legislature went home without addressing that or many other issues.

Much less popular is Ivey’s plan to build three new mega-prisons in Escambia, Elmore and Bibb counties.

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“Only 21 percent of respondents supported a proposal to build new prisons the state would then directly operate,” Hughes said. “The least popular proposal we polled involved the state contracting with private firms to construct new prisons the state would then lease. Only 14 percent of respondents approved of this reform measure.”

The state has grossly underfunded its prison system for decades and the Alabama Department of Corrections is still dangerously overcrowded and understaffed, despite recent efforts by the Legislature to deal with its chronic underfunding of the system.

A U.S. Justice Department investigation begun by the Obama administration and concluded by the Trump administration declared that the state has the most dangerous prison system in the country. The prisons are plagued by rampant drug use, extreme violence, and the prisons have not done a good job at preparing prisoners to return to society.

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The poor track record of rehabilitating prisoners means that inmates are released without job skills, education and still battling mental health issues and drug dependency. Too many inevitably reoffend and get sent back to prison exacerbating the overcrowding situation.

The U.S. Department of Justice warned the state in July that it was violating prisoners’ constitutional rights and that the attorney general may file or join lawsuits to intervene. A federal court has already found that the prisons were understaffed by a thousand guards and that inmates were not receiving necessary mental health care.

The AUM Poll was conducted between Sept. 30 and Oct. 3. It solicited online participation from 1,072 registered voters in Alabama. Respondents were weighted according demographic factors such as age, gender, race, education and income to produce a more representative sample of Alabama’s voting age population.

The survey has a 4-point margin of error.

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News

Federal assistance following Sally tops $100 million, one month remains to apply

The deadline to register for assistance from FEMA and the SBA is Nov. 19, 2020.

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Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of the damage from Hurricane Sally on the gulf coast Friday September 18, 2020. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

About a month after the federal disaster declaration for Hurricane Sally, over $100 million in federal disaster assistance has been approved for survivors.

The funds include grants from FEMA, the National Flood Insurance Program and low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration to help with uninsured or underinsured losses.

“Alabamians, particularly in our coastal communities are still working to get back on their feet following the impacts from Hurricane Sally. I remain grateful to the Trump Administration and the team at FEMA for helping provide this immediate relief for Alabamians,” Gov. Kay Ivey said. “I encourage folks in the eligible counties to take advantage of any of this assistance as we work to recover from Hurricane Sally.”

FEMA disaster assistance can help you start on your road to recovery. Alabama homeowners, renters and businesses who had property damage or loss related to Hurricane Sally have one month left to register and apply for federal disaster assistance.

The deadline to register for assistance from FEMA and the SBA is Nov. 19, 2020.

“FEMA is here with our state and federal partners to help Alabama communities and survivors recover from the devastating storm and flooding,” said Allan Jarvis, federal coordinating officer for the Hurricane Sally disaster in Alabama. “Register for assistance if you have uninsured disaster losses.”

Survivors should register even if they have insurance. FEMA cannot duplicate insurance payments, but eligible homeowners and renters may be able to receive FEMA grants or SBA low interest loans for losses not covered by insurance to help pay for basic home repairs, temporary rental assistance and other needs such as replacing personal property.

Public Service Announcement

Survivors in Baldwin, Escambia and Mobile counties have until Thursday, Nov. 19, to apply for federal disaster help.

Register for assistance in one of three ways:

  • Online by logging onto DisasterAssistance.gov
  • The FEMA app: Visit fema.gov/mobile-app or your phone’s app store
  • Call 800-621-3362 or TTY 800-462-7585. Language translators also are available. Toll-free numbers are open daily from 6 a.m. to midnight CST, seven days a week. Multilingual operators are available.

Survivors who have questions about SBA low-interest disaster loans may contact the Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center by calling 800-659-2955 (TTY 800-877-8339), email at [email protected] or visit SBA’s website at DisasterLoanAssistance.sba.gov.

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