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Committee votes down bill to remove excuses from absentee ballot forms

Republican critics of the bill saw it as a move toward no-excuse voting.

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The House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections committee voted down a bill to remove redundant paperwork for absentee ballots 4-9 on Wednesday.

When a voter applies for an absentee ballot, they must select at least one of nine reasons for their request. The same list is included in an affidavit sent with the ballot which must be filled and notarized. The bill would eliminate the list from the affidavit and keep it on the signed application. 

House bill 464 aims to streamline the absentee voting process by eliminating the unverifiable redundancy.

“This is just another way to make sure that if someone went through the process — you know, legally — we’re going to make sure to maximize each vote being counted,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Kenyatté Hassell, D-Montgomery. “The clerks say, ‘Look, if you simplify this enough, it will be easier for our job.’”

According to bill co-sponsor Rep. Adline Clarke, D-Mobile, the idea to remove the reasons from the affidavit came from four circuit clerks overwhelmed by affidavits filled out incorrectly. 

“We’re just trying to make this the simpler process because this is what four circuit clerks recommended — not four state representatives, but the people in the trenches recommended this,” Clarke said.

Republican critics of the bill saw it as a move toward no-excuse voting. They argued the complicated process incentivizes in-person voting and thereby reduces fraud and expedites ballot counts. 

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“If you want election day to be election day, if you want results to be the results as they come in, I think there needs to be some sort of election integrity so you’re not looking at midnight and 3 a.m. bumps of all these people coming in,” said Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Baldwin. “The less of a — I don’t want to say burden but I will say hurdle — that we make for absentee ballots, the more absentee ballots that you have, the more absentee ballots that you try to pursue, then the more problems are going to come up in the absentee ballot aspect.”

In the 2020 general election, absentee ballots made up 13 percent of total ballots cast. In the 2022 general election, more than 45,000 absentee ballots were cast, but that was just 3 percent of total votes.

“Basically, I was on board, but then the words ‘easy’ come into play,” Rep. Chad Robertson, R-Heflin, said. “It needs to be a little cumbersome to motivate you to personally vote.”

HB95, supporting no-excuse voting, would entirely eliminate the requirement to list a reason for absentee ballots, but it has not been considered by the committee. Without a favorable report from the committee, neither bill is likely to move forward in the five remaining days of the legislative session.

Samuel Stettheimer is a reporting intern at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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