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Public speaks out against “ballot harvesting” bill in committee meeting

The bill would create criminal penalties for assisting a voter in filling out an absentee ballot.

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The Senate State Government Affairs Committee ultimately gave favorable report 7-3 to a bill that would create criminal penalties for assisting a voter in filling out an absentee ballot.

But before the committee could vote on the legislation, it had to hear from a number of people for more than an hour, most of them opposed to the bill.

Many of them had been there before, when this bill was before the Legislature last session.

“The bill purports to safeguard electoral integrity, yet in reality it systematically dismantles the very mechanisms that ensure every eligible citizen, regardless of their circumstances, can participate in our democracy,” said Torie Williams with Greater Birmingham Ministries. “This bill doesn’t just erect barriers, it obliterates the bridge connecting disenfranchised citizens to their right to vote.”

Williams emphasized GBM’s work with incarcerated individuals who have a right to vote absentee. 

“SB1’s stringent measures make absentee voting a challenge for these individuals who already face significant from within the prison system such as lack of resources, insufficient staffing and inefficiencies in mail handling.”

Barbara Manuel, affiliate president of the National Federation of the Blind of Alabama, returned to share her opposition to the bill despite changes that sponsors say would eliminate any concerns about disabled voters losing access to assistance.

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“Those provisions have not been stated clearly; how those provisions are going to take place,” Manuel said.

Betty Mack Shein with the League of Women Voters of Alabama challenged Gudger’s assertion that he has facts to back up rampant ballot harvesting in the state.

“I see SB1 as more of a scare tactic,” she said. “The possibility of ballot harvesting does not exist in the 21st century. There’s no documentation to that fact … SB1 is a ludicrous scare tactic to impede absentee voting.”

Numerous other speakers came to the podium to express their concerns with the bill, but Gudger told the committee that “95 percent” of the concerns speakers had were dealt with by an amendment to the bill, although the speakers disagreed. 

State Sen. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, asked to hold the vote for another week to give committee members time to digest the bill’s new form, but the committee declined and held a vote immediately, passing the measure 7-3. 

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

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