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Opinion | Message from Alabama’s election system: Don’t vote

Joey Kennedy

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The two gubernatorial debates this week before the American Legion’s Alabama Boys State at the University of Alabama were important. There couldn’t be a better contrast between the Republican and Democratic parties based on these debates.

On Tuesday night, only two of the four Republicans showed up to speak before the 600-plus Boys State delegates. Of course, Gov. Kay Ivey, who avoids all debates and even shies from answering direct questions from the media, was a no-show. Evangelist Scott Dawson also had “better” things to do.

The forum was a great opportunity for the Republicans, but they’re apparently fat and happy, and don’t need — or want — it. No reason to get out and discuss issues; they’ll mostly keep low profiles and depend on Alabama voters blindly filling in the GOP bubble on their ballots.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and state Sen. Bill Hightower did appear, and bless them for that. But they generally kept their responses to the Republican Party line: Nothing on gun restrictions, big business rules, molester Roy Moore is a Republican so they supported Roy Moore for U.S. Senate, voter suppression is great, etc., etc.

The five Democrats who were there on Wednesday evening made the most of their time. Former Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, Christopher Countryman, former state Rep. James Fields, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, and Doug “New Blue” Smith all presented individual ideas to move Alabama forward and didn’t appear to be following any Democratic Party-endorsed script.

Of course, Alabama’s Democratic Party is in such disarray, they likely felt there was no party script to follow. That, in itself, was refreshing.

It’s encouraging that there are so many candidates running for governor (and many other state offices) from both parties. Alabama voters enjoy real choices from both parties for the first time in a long time.

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That’s the problem: Both parties.

Alabama’s strict two-party system, with its closed primaries paid for by taxpayers (not the parties), is a bipartisan conspiracy. Neither Republicans nor Democrats want any other party or independents in the game, so they’ve fixed the system so that, realistically, only they can play.

When Democrats controlled the State House and governor’s office, Republicans complained about the lack of ballot access for independent and third-party candidates. Once Republicans took absolute control in 2010, Democrats suddenly found themselves complaining.

This is a mess of both parties’ making.

The two Republicans on Tuesday weren’t much interested in opening Alabama’s ballot. Hightower went as far as to say the GOP voter suppression strategy of requiring photo voter ID at the polls was needed because of rampant voter fraud. That simply is not true, and it’s hard for me to believe someone who seems as bright as Hightower believes it, either.

Independent studies have shown that fraud at the polls is so rare it doesn’t exist; Alabama’s voter fraud in the past has involved absentee ballots, and even that has been rare over the past three decades or so.

The “danger” of massive voter fraud is the GOP line, though, and Hightower and Battle are going to toe it.

Republicans depend on voter suppression, among other strategies, to maintain their control. So photo voter ID, making sure felons who paid their debt to society remain ineligible to vote, kicking qualified voters off the rolls, single-weekday voting, and other such “tricks” are part of the Republican Party creed.

The Democratic Party candidates, though, said they were open to allowing early voting, Saturday voting, electronic voting, relaxed photo voter ID rules, and getting as many qualified voters to the polls as possible. That’s what they said.

Voter fraud is not a problem in Alabama; voter suppression is, and that’s on the Republican Party today.

What Alabama needs most are open primaries, especially because we pay for the elections. If we’re paying, we should be able to vote for any candidate running – Republican, Democrat, independent, or third party.

I’m passionate about this issue because, despite what some may think, I’m neither a Republican or Democrat. I’m independent, and I vote across party lines in general elections. I’m not allowed to do that in the primaries that we taxpayers are funding, though. I have to choose a party, or not vote – and that’s what both parties, but especially Republicans, are depending on.

A big reason Alabama’s voter turnout is traditionally so low is because of the restrictions the two parties put on ballot access, voting, and who exactly can vote.

That should not exist and, in fact, it doesn’t in many states.

But in Alabama, our elected leaders are afraid of voters. They don’t want truly open elections. So they do as much as they can to see that eligible voters don’t actually vote.

And far too often, they don’t.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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