MONTGOMERY — As the contentious 2024 presidential election looms, Alabama Senate Republicans are hoping to outlaw ballot harvesting in one of the first bills put forward this session.

Amended legislation establishing felony criminal penalties for ballot harvesting in Alabama passed the Senate's State Governmental Affairs committee on Wednesday.

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."

State Sen. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman), the bill's sponsor, told reporters on Wednesday the bill would be considered on the Senate floor next week.

"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."

The bill is opposed by liberal groups and could possibly be filibustered by Democrats in both chambers.

"Since the Republicans have taken over in 2010, we've had so many pieces of legislation that have had unintended consequences. Let this not be another one," State Sen. Merika Coleman (D-Birmingham) said.

Gov. Kay Ivey expressed support for the bill in her State of the State address on Tuesday, saying, "I am proud to support legislation that prohibits ballot harvesting in our State. We would put a stop to any manipulation of our elections by closing loopholes that allow unaccountable, paid political operatives to pressure folks through the absentee voting process."

State Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed (R-Jasper) said in a statement after the bill was passed out of committee, "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."

"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.

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