MONTGOMERY — Legislation banning ballot harvesting in Alabama will be considered by the State Senate this week.

The legislation establishes felony criminal penalties for ballot harvesting in Alabama and passed the Senate's State Governmental Affairs last week.

The version passed by the committee on party lines would make 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.

The legislation also makes it a Class B felony person to 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.

There are exemptions in the bill for U.S. citizens, military members and military families who vote by absentee ballot overseas. According to the legislation, voters who require assistance to vote due to blindness, disability, or inability to read or write may be given assistance by an individual of the voter's choice "other than the voter's employer or agent of that employer or officer or agent of the voter's union."

Multiple Republican Senators have said the bill will be considered this week. The bill is sponsored by State Sen. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) and State Rep. Jamie Kiel (R-Russellville).

State Senate President Pro-Tem Greg Reed (R-Jasper) told reporters on Thursday, "the election security topic is a huge priority of our caucus."

"This legislation was something that we discussed and considered last year. In that, we felt like there were a couple elements of the legislation that may have gone too far in discouraging some people from offering whatever help that may be needed related to an absentee process. I think the legislation is going to be focused on paying people to do this work. Ballot harvesting and being able to pay people to go do that and campaign is the issue we're trying to minimize and limit. That's the problem," Reed said.

The bill was opposed by Democrats in committee last week, but Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) said on Thursday his caucus was "OK" with a version of the legislation that allows people to "go out and get assistance" with the absentee voting process. 

"It's still giving a person the ability to go out and get assistance. We're OK with that, to give assistance (and) make sure it can still be mailed by post office and those things that have penalties on it where you can't pay someone for their ballot, that's illegal anyways. We're fine with that. We don't want to see that anyways so we're OK with that. While I may think the penalties are a little stiff, but at the end of the day if that's the compromise we have to make then that's the compromise we have to make. The free access to the ballot is still there and people still have the right to give assistance where assistance may be needed," Singleton said.

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