MONTGOMERY — In the wake of the 2020 elections, measures to change voting procedures and regulations have been introduced at the federal and state levels, revealing a deep partisan divide over how voting should work.
While Democrats in Congress are pushing legislation that would limit states’ ability to enact strict voting requirements, Republicans in state legislatures are considering bills to tighten voting regulations in the name of securing voter integrity.
Alabama has followed suit, as a number of election-centered bills have been introduced during the ongoing 2021 regular session. Around 32 bills from both Democrats and Republicans introduced this year have dealt with Alabama election law.
Some of the conservative measures have drawn sharp concern from Democrats saying the bills promote voter suppression and are in reaction to President Donald Trump’s false accusations of widespread voter fraud during the 2020 election.
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Valentine’s Day took on new meaning Friday as members of five organizations continued their tour to get persons in jail and prison registered to vote by absentee ballot in the upcoming primary and beyond.
“What we did (Friday) – and have been doing – is registering eligible voters inside of our jails and our prisons,” said Rodreshia Russaw, co-executive director of The Ordinary People Society. “We have made history in 2020 where it’s actually on the absentee ballot (application) that they can register inside of prison.” Read more.
Jefferson County has prepared a new space at the courthouse for persons to cast absentee ballots for the March 3 presidential primaries. Read more.
MONTGOMERY – A Southern Poverty Law Center report released Monday claims voter suppression is “alive and well” in Alabama and calls for several reform measures.
But state officials pushed back on the criticism, saying Alabama has made great gains in registering and turning out voters.
Caren Short, a senior staff attorney with SPLC, told Alabama Daily News that Alabama ranks low among Southern states in protecting voting rights.
“We make voting pretty hard and we don’t have a lot of easy reforms that could make voting simple for people,” Short said. Read more.
Voters in Alabama and across the country attended Voting Rights Vigils on Aug. 6 to mark the 54th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act and call on Congress to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act. Read more.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill heads to Washington to testify before Congress Wednesday about election security. Merrill is one of a handful of state and local election officials giving feedback on a bill meant to improve the nation’s voting laws. He says he has issues with some of the provisions in the proposed legislation. Read more.
Alabama voters are casting straight-ticket ballots in growing numbers, highlighting a trend toward political polarization in the state.
That move was on full display in Tuesday’s election and appeared to be a critical factor in the outcome of some races.
About 65 percent of those who participated in the general election voted straight tickets, according to totals from the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office. Read more.
Polls have closed in Jefferson County and across the state; now the wait begins for results in the governor’s race, all the top statewide offices, the Legislature and county offices statewide.
Lines greeted many voters as they arrived at the polls today despite initial predictions of near record-low turnout.
Jefferson County Board of Registrars Chairman Barry Stephenson revised his prediction and estimates about a 50 percent turnout in the county. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill predicts about 40 percent turnout across the state.
The spokesman for Merrill’s office said results should start trickling in by about 7:30 p.m. They will be available here on the Secretary of State’s website. BirminghamWatch also will be regularly updating vote numbers in the top state races and periodically updating local results.
Merrill’s spokesman, John Bennett, said no major statewide problems had been reported from the polls today.
However, poll workers in the Huntsville area are having issues the Madison County Probate Judge Tommy Ragland said could force a hand count of many ballots. He said many ballots could not be fed into readers because the paper ballots were swelled from moisture in the air. Read more.
In Alabama’s rural Marengo County, there are six fewer voting locations this year than in 2010, a decrease of about 24 percent.
“We have recently combined some (polling places) and done away with others,” said Barry Hunt, a board of registrars member in the Black Belt county that now has 19 physical places for people to vote. “I haven’t heard any complaints about it here, but definitely some (voters) have to go farther than they did,” Hunt said.
Across the state, Alabamians will be going to fewer polling places on Tuesday than they did in 2010, according to a comparison by BirminghamWatch of precincts for the June 2018 primary and the 2010 general election. Almost 100 polling places were shed by 25 counties. There are 2004 precincts in the state. Some county officials said it was population shifts that caused closures. Others said it was condemned buildings or requests from property owners.
Voting rights advocates, meanwhile, are calling for the restoration of the Voting Rights Act to protect people’s access to polls, particularly for minority voters. Read more.
Since last year, Lorenzo French said, he’s helped about 50 people in rural Greene County regain their ability to vote.
Many of them were improperly removed from voter rolls because they had a felony conviction, though not the type that should have banned them from voting, French said. Others didn’t have photo identification, a requirement to vote in Alabama since 2014.
“That’s my job,” French, chair of the Greene County Democrats, said. “To find the people who can’t vote, find out why they can’t and reestablish them.”
More Alabamians are registered to vote than ever before and more ballots were cast in this year’s gubernatorial primaries than in 2010 contests, but some pockets of the state have seen decreases, including Greene County and 10 others where there are now fewer black registered voters.
That is because of changes in population, not policy, the state’s top election official said.
Lecia Brooks, outreach director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said she also is concerned about technicalities keeping Alabamians from voting. Maybe their polling place changed or they’ve been placed on an inactive voter list.
“They’re registered, they’re ready to vote and they show up on election day and they’re sent away,” she said.
Changes — including the ID law, a decrease in polling places and purging of voter rolls — have been allowed without federal review since 2013, when in Shelby County, Ala. v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a portion of the federal voting rights law that required changes in voting procedures in some states and local governments to be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.
“All of these things would have had to be approved or given greater scrutiny,” Brooks said. Read more.
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