By Rep. Darrio Melton
SELMA, Ala.–Representative Darrio Melton (D-Selma) has announced that he will introduce legislation to expand voting rights in Alabama in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.
“While the President and members of Congress came to the anniversary celebrations, we are left with no choice but to remember what has been dismantled. We have to ask ourselves: are we having a commemoration of progress or have we paid a visit to democracy while it’s on life support?” Melton says.
In 2013, the US Supreme Court ruled to overturn portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that protected voters in areas with a history of discriminatory practices in election laws. The results can be felt in photo ID laws, gerrymandered district lines and changes to voter registration laws.
“Fifty years ago, the foot soldiers feared State Troopers with billy clubs at the foot of the bridge–now the obstruction has shifted from blue-uniformed Troopers to black-robed jurists and elected leaders who refuse to stand for the principles of our Democracy,” Melton says.
To protect the progress made in Selma, Melton is introducing three bills relating to voting laws in Alabama.
Last year, the Alabama legislature shortened the amount of time available to register to vote from 10 days to 14 days prior to an election. This year, one representative is looking to extend the deadline to 30 days prior to an election.
Melton wants to counter their attempts with a bill to allow voters to register on any day the Board of Registrars holds office hours, including the day of an election.
“Many states across the state allow same-day voter registration, and its shameful that a state with a history like ours puts up barriers to entry relating to voting,” Melton said.
Furthermore, Melton is introducing legislation that allows voters to cast ballots by mail without providing a reason for doing so.
“This is about increasing access to the ballot box,” Melton says. “To vote by mail currently, you have to sign an affidavit swearing that you have a valid excuse. You can’t vote absentee if you have children and can’t get a babysitter or if you’re taking care of a sick loved one,” Melton says.
Currently, an Alabama voter can only mail in an absentee ballot if they are sick, disabled, out of town, or working a shift of more than ten hours on Election Day.
“We have to account for people’s lives in the political process, too,” Melton says.
Lastly, Melton is introducing a bill to allow for “early vote,” a practice already in place in many states across the country, to open the polls for five days leading up to Election Day.
Melton says that early vote would help prevent unforeseen circumstances from keeping people from the polls.
“Anything can happen to anyone, but everyone’s vote should count,” Melton says.
“These initiatives are small steps we can take to improve access to the ballot box across Alabama,” Melton says.
While the Republican supermajority in the Legislature is working to make voting more difficult, Melton acknowledges that his bills have a long-shot to succeed, but that he still must try to push them forward.
Melton did say that he feels confident that some small strides can be made. He says that he is working closely with Secretary of State John Merrill, and members of both parties to develop bipartisan solutions to ensure that voter registration is easier for Alabamians across the state.
“We can’t commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and not make any steps to keep marching forward,” Melton says. “This is about bringing about change for the next 50 years.”
Representative Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.