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Merrill announces new photo ID requirements for voters casting absentee ballots

Alabama driver's licenses.

The Secretary of State’s office announced Tuesday that new rules for voting by absentee ballot went into effect on August 1.

In order to vote absentee, the voter is required to submit a copy of their valid photo identification with the absentee ballot application. The secretary’s office said this will ensure that only eligible voters receive ballots for the election in which they are qualified to vote.

Prior to Aug. 1, voters requesting an absentee ballot were not required to present a valid form of photo identification with their application, making it more difficult for Absentee Election Managers to verify the voters’ identity.

“Now more than ever, we are making it easier to vote and harder to cheat!” Secretary of State John Merrill said in a statement. “By streamlining the process to verify absentee voters, we are making the submission of an absentee application easier and more efficient for all who are eligible.”

Absentee election managers are no longer required to publish the list of absentee voters, their addresses, and their polling places in the county courthouse. This law is designed to protect voter privacy and keeps information from being compromised by those looking to influence elections.

One Republican strategist in Jefferson County, however, told the Alabama Political Reporter that this new secrecy requirement will make it harder for them to find voting fraud. He cited the exposure of irregularities with a recent election in the Bessemer Cutoff of Jefferson County, which were found using that public list of absentee voters.

This law introduces two new instances for voters to submit an absentee ballot: if a voter is a caregiver to an immediate family member or if a voter has been incarcerated but has not been convicted of a disqualifying felony.

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Act 2019-507 also provides that a voter may apply for an emergency absentee ballot while serving as the caregiver to someone who requires medical treatment or if an immediate family member has passed away within five days of an election.

In order to ensure absentee ballots are returned in a timely manner in a way that is convenient, voters now have the option to return ballots by commercial carriers such as UPS or FedEx in addition to U.S. mail.

“In the Office of the Secretary of State, we are working to make the electoral process more efficient and accommodating for the people of Alabama!” Merrill said.

Alabama has been criticized by some Democrats and some Democratic Party-aligned civil rights groups for its voter ID laws. They claim that the law suppresses black voters.

A federal court has already upheld the legality of Alabama’s photo ID law.

Merrill denies that any voter suppression is taking place in the state and emphasizes that if you need a photo ID, his office or your local board of registrars will provide you one free of charge.

“My goal as Alabama’s 53rd Secretary of State is to ensure that each and every eligible U.S. Citizen that is a resident of Alabama is registered to vote and receives a free photo ID,” Merrill said in the statement. “Our only goals when it comes to the administration of elections is to ensure that every Alabamian has access to participate in a fair and secure elections process and we encourage voter participation by ensuring that in each of Alabama’s 67 counties.”

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Merrill is a 2020 candidate for U.S. Senate for the seat currently held by Sen. Doug Jones.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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