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Senate committee advances bill to restrict ballot harvesting

The State Government Affairs Committee approved the bill, sponsored by Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman.

An absentee ballot application.

In a hurried move to address concerns surrounding election integrity, Alabama’s legislative body has taken a step forward with the advancement of the Ballot Harvesting Bill out of the State Government Affairs Committee.

Sponsored by Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, the proposed legislation aims to tighten restrictions on the practice known as ballot harvesting, where third parties collect and submit absentee or mail-in ballots on behalf of voters. Under this bill, activities such as ordering, requesting, collecting, prefilling, obtaining, or delivering absentee ballots for others, as well as receiving or offering payment for these services, would be prohibited. However, the bill promises that assistance is still accessible for Alabamians with disabilities.

Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Reed, R-Jasper, and Senator Gudger have both stated their support for the bill, highlighting the paramount importance of election integrity. Reed emphasized the foundational role of voting in democracy, underlining the necessity to safeguard legitimate votes from being overshadowed by fraudulent activities.

“No greater priority exists than ensuring integrity in our elections. We must ensure absentee ballots are handled and cast in proper ways. Voting is a right that is foundational to our democracy, and we need to make certain that legitimate votes are not being diluted by fraudulent votes,” Reed said. “The main goal of these efforts will be to make sure that your vote counts and that those who try to cheat our system are held accountable.”

Similarly, Gudger expressed concern over the ease of committing fraud under current election laws, stating that deceptive practices during elections erode the very essence of democracy and deter legitimate voters.

“A democratic Republic cannot survive if election laws allow voters to commit fraud easily,” Gudger said.“When individuals engage in deceptive practices during elections, it undermines the very essence of democracy, discouraging legitimate voters. The Ballot Harvesting Bill ensures the people of Alabama are the ones managing our elections without interference from bad actors.”

Governor Kay Ivey also showed her support for the initiative during her State of the State Address, expressing her pride in backing legislation that aims to eliminate ballot harvesting in Alabama. She pointed out the importance of closing loopholes that allow for potential manipulation of elections through absentee voting.

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The proponents of the Ballot Harvesting Bill argue that such measures are essential to ensure Alabama’s elections remain transparent, trackable, and publicly verifiable, thereby boosting voters’ confidence in the electoral system’s security and accuracy.

The issue of ballot harvesting is highly contentious, with supporters advocating for its convenience, especially for voters who face challenges in mailing their ballots or reaching polling places, such as the elderly, disabled, or those without reliable transportation. They argue that permitting a trusted individual to submit a ballot on a voter’s behalf facilitates easier participation in the electoral process.

Conversely, critics of ballot harvesting point to the potential risks of fraud and abuse, fearing that third-party handling of ballots could lead to tampering, loss, or failure to submit ballots. There are also concerns about possible coercion or undue influence on voters by those collecting ballots.

The debate over ballot harvesting reflects deeper political and ideological divides, with regulations varying significantly across the United States. Some states have implemented strict laws to limit or outright ban the practice, while others maintain lenient policies that permit any designated individual to return ballots on behalf of voters, subject to certain restrictions.

As Alabama moves forward with this legislative proposal, the discussion continues to highlight the broader national debate over voting rights, election security, and access to the polls, underscoring the ongoing struggle to balance electoral integrity with ensuring voter access.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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