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Senate advances ballot harvesting legislation

The legislation, SB1, passed the Senate 27-8 with Democrats vociferously condemning the bill.

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On Tuesday, the Senate advanced a bill that would criminalize individuals for helping with absentee ballot applications or voters who need assistance with absentee ballots. 

The legislation, SB1, passed the Senate 27-8 with Democrats vociferously condemning the bill. Republicans believe the bill is necessary to prevent a third party from collecting and submitting absentee ballots or otherwise called “ballot harvesting”. According to opponents of the bill the issue is that “ballot harvesting” is not an actual extensive problem and the legislation advanced by the Senate will have the effect of suppressing voters who rely on absentee ballot voting. 

The legislation makes it a Class C felony for a third party to knowingly receive a payment or gift for distributing, ordering, requesting, collecting, completing, prefilling, obtaining or delivering a voter’s absentee ballot application.

Also, the bill provides that an individual will face a Class B felony if they knowingly pay or provide a gift to a third party to distribute, order, request, collect, prefill, complete, obtain, or deliver a voter’s absentee ballot application.

Senator Garlan Gudger, the sponsor of the bill, stated the bill would protect the integrity of Alabama elections. Similar legislation was proposed during the previous legislative session but died in the legislature. The topic is being pushed early and forcefully because Republicans would like to implement the legislation before the November election cycle.  

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said Gudger and Senate Republicans were pushing “red meat” national issues. The discussion about election integrity from Republican lawmakers across the country rose following the defeat of President Donald Trump in 2020 as he alleged that the election was fraudulent and rigged.

“They just going on some red meat stuff y’all are pushing from the national convention,” Singleton said. 

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Singleton warned the bill would disincentivize voters from participating for fear they could be arrested or imprisoned. The elderly, people with disabilities, and individuals serving in the military or overseas are the primary people who need to vote using absentee ballots.

The legislation does provide that those with disabilities can obtain assistance from an individual they choose. The bill also exempts voters from voting by absentee ballot under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act.

Several high-ranking Republicans celebrated the bill’s passage to the House of Representatives including ALGOP Chairman John Wahl.

“I would like to thank Senator Garlan Gudger, who sponsored SB1, as well as the entire State Senate, for passing this important legislation,” Wahl said in a statement. This bill is about making sure every single person’s vote is secure and safeguarded. We believe that the election process should stand for honesty and integrity, and no one’s vote should ever be stolen or usurped by illegal ballot harvesting. SB1 is a commonsense bill that simply reinforces penalties if someone is paid to collect or tamper with ballots. This measure should be supported by everyone, and we are excited to see this bill move forward.”

As the bill moves to the House there will likely be more vocal opposition from civil and voting rights organizations and citizens who rely on absentee ballot voting. 

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

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