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Legislature passes bill criminalizing “ballot harvesting”

Critics are still concerned about the law’s potential to suppress votes by making voters fear criminal charges.

An absentee ballot application.
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If ballot harvesting wasn’t a problem before, it certainly won’t be expected to become one now as the Alabama House of Representatives voted along party lines Thursday to create criminal penalties for the practice.

For the past two years, critics of the bill have asked for proof that the legislation is necessary, with lawmakers unable or unwilling to do so. Proponents of the bill say the legislation is a victory for election security despite Alabama already having one of the most secure election systems in the nation.

“Ballot harvesting is a practice in which groups or individuals seek to profit off of the absentee voting process by knowingly ordering, requesting, collecting, pre-filing, obtaining or delivering an absentee ballot application or absentee ballot other than his or her own absentee ballot application or absentee ballot,” Sen. Garlan Gudger said in a statement. “SB1 will help strengthen Alabama’s absentee voting process while protecting voters who are disabled and protecting our overseas military voters. SB1 will make it illegal to pay or receive payment to assist voters in completing an absentee ballot application or absentee ballot.”

One of the major concerns from critics over the years has been whether the legislation would create a barrier for disabled voters to have their votes heard. Changes to the legislation make that unlikely, but critics are still concerned about the law’s potential to suppress votes by making voters fear criminal charges.

SB1 is a prime example of MAGA voter suppression at work,” said Alabama native Tracy Adair, communications manager at Stand Up America. “Preventing older voters, voters with disabilities, and other voters who might need additional support from getting assistance with the threat of a potential criminal charge is cruel and anti-democratic. This discriminatory legislation has no business in the land of the free.”

The bulk of the bill has undergone enough change that the only impetus for criminal charges for most of the bill is an exchange of money. Democrat lawmakers continued to raise concerns about family members paying for gas money, or even a postage stamp, that could suddenly turn an innocuous act of assistance into a Class B felony.

Distributing pre-filled absentee ballot applications will be a crime under the legislation without money changing hands.

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The bill is now awaiting signage by Gov. Kay Ivey.

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

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