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Bill to criminalize absentee ballot assistance back on the docket

The bill appears to pick up right where it left off in the Senate last session, and seems primed for Republican approval.

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Those who cover the Alabama Legislature were surprised at the end of the 2023 session to see a bill criminalizing the assistance in completing absentee ballots fail in the final days.

The bill, HB209 sponsored by Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, gained approval by a Senate committee on May 24, with seemingly plenty of time left to be pushed across the Senate floor. The committee significantly changed the bill to create exceptions for citizens who are blind, disabled or unable to read or write after receiving harsh criticism from Democrats and voting rights organizations.

Now the bill is one of the first bills to be pre-filed for the upcoming session, this time being carried by Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, as SB1. APR left a message with Gudger’s office Monday, but did not receive a response before publishing time.

“Let’s be clear: The passage of HB209 during the 2023 legislative session by the Alabama House and the pre-filling of SB 1 for the 2024 legislative session are blatant acts of voter suppression,” said Anneshia Hardy, executive director of Alabama Values Progress. “Both these bills are not just pieces of legislation; they are clear acts of voter suppression. It’s disheartening to see our state legislature prioritize barriers over accessibility, criminalizing acts of community assistance and perpetuating racially biased gerrymandered congressional maps. Instead of narrowing the path to the ballot box, our focus should be on ensuring every Alabamian, regardless of age, race, or ability, has an equal and unobstructed opportunity to vote. At Alabama Values Progress, we remain committed to challenging these suppressive tactics and advocating for a more inclusive and democratic Alabama. We pledge to work closely with advocates, policymakers, and the wider public to hold these officials accountable. It’s imperative that voters are informed and remember who truly represented their interests when the next election comes around. Together, we will ensure that the voices of Alabamians are heard, valued, and protected.”

The bill appears to pick up right where it left off in the Senate last session, and seems primed for Republican approval with the tweaks made in Senate committee during the last session.

Republicans have said the bill is important to ensure voter fraud does not occur, even though they have not presented evidence that absentee voter fraud has been an issue in the state. Democrats have said the bill “is a solution in search of a problem” and could have a chilling effect by making voters afraid to receive help on their absentee ballot forms for fear of criminal charges.

A violation of the law would be a Class A misdemeanor in instances where no money changes hands; if money is involved, it becomes a Class C felony. While there are numerous exceptions when no money changes hands, those exceptions are not included when the assisting individual is paid.

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Last session, Rep. Chris England, D-Tucsaloosa, said this could result in a father and son both being charged with felonies simply for the father giving his son gas money to drop off a ballot.

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

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