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House passes bill criminalizing prefilling absentee applications

Democrats expressed concern that the bill could make criminals out of good people.

A bill approved by the Alabama House of Representatives Thursday would criminalize pre-filling information on absentee ballot applications and voter registration forms for other voters.

HB63, sponsored by Rep. Debby Wood, R-Valley, passed 73 to 28 along party lines.

However, Democrats were able to impact the bill, as Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika, brought forward an amendment downgrading the criminal charges from a Class C felony to a Class A misdemeanor.

Wood said the bill is designed to prevent voter fraud and keep elections secure.

“In the 2018 and 2020 election cycles there were third party organizations that sent out voter registration cards prefilled to individuals,” Wood said. “Sometimes they sent them to the wrong address. They sent them to individuals that can no longer vote, they were deceased.”

Wood said in one case, an application was even filled out for someone’s household pet.

Later, when pressed, Wood said she could not identify the third party organizations and only had five individual cases she knew of, but still argued that it’s worthwhile to prevent fraud.

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The bill specifically allows applications and registrations to be pre-filled with the voter’s consent. Wood said this bill is only to stop people and groups from filling out forms unsolicited and sending them out.

Democrats have expressed concerns that the bill could result in the criminalization of individuals who are just helping a family member or friend in the voting process.

Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, reminded members of Secretary of State John Merrill’s statements that Alabama’s elections are already secure.

“He has said time and time again that Alabama is way ahead of many states,” Givan said.

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, pressed Wood for how many individuals she had an example of violating this bill. She said she had five examples, out of more than 5 million residents in Alabama.

“I’m giving you an example that is not happening in an organized fashion,” Daniels said. “Where all of this is coming from a particular area because I’ve heard about groups; what groups? I haven’t seen them.”

The bill is the latest in a string of legislation that Democrats have expressed could limit voter rights in the state. 

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Republicans across the country have doubled down on passing restrictive voter laws after former president Donald Trump made accusations that the 2020 election was stolen by Joe Biden, culminating in an insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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