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Opinion | Voting shouldn’t be so difficult

I may trigger Secretary of State John Merrill, so this is the warning.

We must not repeat what happened in Georgia Tuesday. In-person voting was a mess. Millions of dollars in brand new voting machines malfunctioned. Some voters had to wait in line for hours to cast a ballot in the Georgia primaries, and some voters just gave up.

That’s what some Republicans in Georgia wanted: Make it as difficult for certain groups to cast a ballot so they don’t vote. Like Georgia, Alabama is a voter-suppression state. Our Legislature puts up legal roadblocks, and our secretary of state doesn’t campaign for meaningful reforms.

This is the year 2020. There is no valid reason we cannot follow other progressive and conservative states that use mail-in ballots. But just as in Georgia, where state election officials and even the governor (the former Secretary of State), oppose mail-in ballots, so does Merrill in Alabama. Indeed, Merrill opposes just about every voting plan in existence across the nation that includes mail-in ballots, early voting, or whatever plan thatallows voters a way to not cast their ballots in person.

We have absentee ballots, of course, but for many people, even negotiating the absentee ballot request form for could be a challenge. It can be intimidating.

Yet, that’s what Merrill has encouraged voters to do if they don’t want to vote in person for the July 14 primary runoff because of the fears of being infected by the novel coronavirus COVID-19.I saw plenty of photos from those lines in Georgia where people were not wearing masks.

Let’s be realistic. It’s about halfway through June, and the virus didn’t go away when the weather warmed. It didn’t magically disappear like Donald Trump said it would. Indeed, there are still 800 to 1,000 people dying every day from the virus in this country. It’s still spreading in various hot spots around the nation and world. Montgomery now has the second largest number of infections, after Mobile. Jefferson County, the state’s largest county, is third.

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According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, all states will mail an absentee ballot to certain voters who request one. “But in two-thirds of the states, any qualified voter may vote absentee without offering an excuse,” the NCSL writes. In one-third of the states, an excuse is required. Of course, Alabama is in that one-third. Because institutionally, Alabama leaders generally want to discourage certain voters from being able to cast their ballots.

That is simply a fact, one that Merrill will not accept, but an objective person can look at the voting barriers that exist, and there lies the truth.

Some states automatically mail a ballot to every eligible voter, without a request or application. Some states have early voting. In about four-fifths of the states, any qualified voter may cast a ballot in person during a designated period prior to election day, the NCSL reports. Alabama, of course, does not offer early voting.

This is the system that Merrill, as the state’s top election official, inherited. But he hasn’t done a whole lot to deconstruct the system and remake it to provide voters more opportunities and methods to cast in a legitimate ballot.

If nothing else, allow voters to cast ballots on the weekend, when most are not working. Allow a qualified voter to request an absentee ballot without all of the hurdles. For goodness’ sake, mail us a ballot because you know we’re registered, and let us return it through the mail.

No way that system could be in place by the November election. What we have to hope for, and let’s do, is that Merrill will allow anybody who is qualified to vote to cast their ballot absentee, without all the excuses.

The Georgia fiasco is right over there, to the right. Let’s not bring it to Alabama, please.

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There is a deadly disease out there, one that will likely kill my wife if she gets it. I’m guessing just about everybody has somebody in their family whose health is compromised in some way. Why should I have to choose between voting in person or risking infecting my wife or another loved one?

I shouldn’t, and neither should you.

Make it so, Secretary Merrill.

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


Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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