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Opinion | It’s hard to vote in Alabama

Alabama ranks No. 45 out of the 50 states when it comes to how easy it is for people to vote.

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Term-limited Secretary of State John Merrill isn’t going to like this. 

According to the 2022 study “Cost of Voting in the American States,” Alabama ranks No. 45 out of the 50 states when it comes to how easy it is for people to vote. In other words, we’re fifth from the bottom. In yet another category. In so many categories. In just about any of the quality-of-life studies. 

We’ve written about voting issues in Alabama before, and nearly every time, Merrill has a little fit. But Alabama Political Reporter didn’t underwrite this study. I had nothing to do with it, except to read about it in The New York Times and, in this space, comment on it. It’s credible and academic.

The study shows what many of us already know: Alabama does very little to get voters to the polls. We do little to educate voters on their choices. We allow straight-ticket voting, one of only six states to allow such. And one of those states, Indiana, did away with straight-party voting for at-large races, while allowing it in other races. Straight-party voting is the lazy person’s way to vote. 

And now, Republicans want to make voters register by party, meaning many more people will be disfranchised from voting at all, until a general election.

Alabama also has no vote-by-mail provisions, other than absentee ballots, and if you don’t qualify for an absentee ballot, you must vote in person. Or not vote. Eight states are now entirely vote-by-mail, but Merrill and other state officials said there will be no vote-by-mail in Alabama. Vote-by-mail has been shown to work where it’s already in place. That’s why more and more states are going to it. It works, which is another strike against it in Alabama. We’re not that fond of what works, or we’d be sending teams to other states to learn good ideas (because we have so few of our own).

Most states have early voting, ranging from more than 40 days before an election (Virginia) to as little as a few days (Kentucky). Alabama has zero days of early voting, one of just four states. I discussed this with Merrill before, and he said voters don’t vote early, and it costs a lot of money for little benefit. Well, Secretary Merrill, except for voter convenience, right?

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Voter registration is another area where Alabama is way behind. Eighteen states allow people to register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day. Not Alabama. According to the study, Alabama residents must be registered to vote at least 15 days before an election (to its tiny credit, Alabama’s window is better than many other states, but most of those states have multiple ways for voters to cast their ballots. 

Alabama doesn’t use drop boxes. No need, since voters MUST vote in person (unless you qualify for an absentee ballot).

Of course, voter ID is in place, so you have to present a valid photo ID card at the polls (driver license, passport, and state-issued ID appear to be the popular choices). These restrictions are in place to supposedly prevent voter fraud, a crime that simply does not exist to any notable extent in Alabama or any other U.S. state. 

And where Alabama absentee ballots are concerned, many people simply lie to get one. I know that, and Merrill does too. The practice is generally winked at. So, there’s your voter fraud! A serious look at the history of voter fraud in Alabama shows that absentee ballots are the main culprit. 

We could do a lot to make voting easier. Vote by mail or excuse-free absentee ballots, drop boxes for voters to use, early voting, same-day voter registration – all would make Alabama an easier state in which to vote.

There is hardly any effort being made to franchise voters who once committed felonies but paid their debt to society. Likely, there won’t be, either; those folks are mostly on their own. 

We could make it much easier to vote, but state leaders don’t want that. Republicans in many states know they wouldn’t win if voting was too easy. Their issues mostly suck: No abortions for 10-year-olds raped by Daddy, torturing transgender kids for being different, repealing marriage equality, sending legal asylum-seekers to who-knows-where, keeping two people who love each other from marrying, coddling treasonous seditionists and the seriously deranged narcissist and former president, Donald Trump. Republicans have to game the system, through gerrymandering, bigoted culture wars, and making it harder for people to vote. 

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Their entire philosophy is to keep people FROM voting, because Republicans don’t do as well when there are large turnouts, and especially in national elections. They play to our worst prejudices by demonizing particular marginalized groups, with no concern for the damage they are doing to human beings, to children, to babies, all while pretending to be “Christians.” The latest targets are trans kids and those in the LGBTQ+ community, but this year and in previous years, immigrants, African-Americans, issues involving women and girls of all races, and others have been their targets. (Old white men like me are safe!)

They’ll continue to be targets, too, until voters throw out the bigots, homophobes, xenophobes, and misogynists who hold public office. People have to vote in larger numbers than they are now to accomplish that. They must vote FOR their interests, not against them, like they do now.

Merrill’s term in the Secretary of State’s office is ending, but his successor is likely to be even more of a don’t-vote advocate.

Because of in-person voter “fraud.” That doesn’t exist. In a state that is dead last or near-so in many important categories. Apparently, state officials are proud of that. Because they do so little to help Alabama move up. We’d rather be stubborn than right. We prefer to “defend our wrongs,” and pay the price later, after the federal courts rule against us. As they often do, and as they should.

Last is so easy. Just do nothing. First place is damn hard, excruciatingly difficult. A lot of work to get there or to even begin the climb. Just ask Nick Saban.

As a state, though, we don’t even try. 

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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