MONTGOMERY — Legislation establishing criminal penalties for certain types of absentee ballot assistance is still very much alive or dead, depending on who you ask, with one day remaining in the legislative session.
House Bill 209 (HB209), sponsored by State Rep. Jamie Kiel (R-Russellville), aims to crack down on ballot harvesting, a practice whereby political operatives collect absentee ballots from voters and drop them off at polling places or election sites.
The bill still has to pass both the Senate and the House since it was amended in a Senate Committee. Tuesday is the last day of the legislative session.
The amendment exempts persons assisting to blind, disabled and voters who can't read or write from any criminal penalties. It also changed the penalties for those who order, request, collect, prefill, obtain or deliver an absentee ballot application or absentee ballot in addition to their own to a Class A misdemeanor rather than a Class D felony.
The legislation would also make it a Class C felony for anyone who knowingly pays a third party or for any third party to receive payment to distribute, order, request, collect, complete, obtain, prefill or deliver an absentee ballot application or absentee ballot for another person.
The language of the bill allows assistance from a person by any family member to the second degree of kinship, a guardian or conservator, a resident of the household who has lived there more than six months, an employee designated by the secretary of state, a designee of the local probate judge or a county absentee election manager.
"It is very much alive," Kiel told 1819 News on Friday. "I'm very hopeful that we will see it on the calendar Tuesday. I believe we have strong support among the members in the Senate and we have the votes to pass it if we get it on the floor."
Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed (R-Jasper) told reporters on Thursday there's still quite a bit of debate" on whether the legislation will make it to the Senate floor for a vote on Tuesday.
"I think there's a lot of pro and con related to that legislation. No one wants people from outside Alabama coming here, spending a lot of money trying to have influence with our electoral process," Reed said. "At the same, in thinking through that, we don't want to throw a net so large that it winds up being a difficulty for someone just trying to help their family member or their neighbor in the voting process so I think there's ongoing discussion around that. I think that legislation has been brought forward for all the right reasons. We want elections to be honest and fair in every way in Alabama. Alabama has some of the most aggressive and restrictive election laws in the nation. This is just one more element, one more tool for that process. We'll see what happens."
Perry County Commission Chairman Albert Turner Jr. said on social media on Thursday that he'd lobbied against the bill and that the bill was dead.
"Chairman Turner was able to show Senators that there were unintended consequences that (would send) postal officials, caretakers, nurses, notaries, and even family heading to prison for simply witnessing a person's signature. This bill was ill-conceived and punitive to Alabama citizens who wanted to help select their government," Turner said.
Turner was indicted on voter fraud charges in January by a retiring District Attorney who lost his re-election campaign in 2022. However, those charges were dropped in April and Turner called the case a political vendetta.
"Chairman Turner was charged by a rogue former DA, Micheal Jackson, for similar acts that this bill would have made unlawful," Turner said. "The Chairman witnessed several legal absentee ballots that led to Jackson's defeat in 2022. The case against Chairman Turner was dismissed at the urging of the Alabama Attorney General's Office for lack of evidence."
To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email caleb.taylor@1819News.com.
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