MONTGOMERY — Controversial legislation designed to crack down on ballot harvesting passed the Alabama House of Representatives Thursday after vigorous Democratic protest.
The bill would make it a class D felony for a person to distribute, order, request, collect, complete, obtain, prefill or deliver an absentee ballot application or absentee ballot for another person in addition to their own.
It would also make it a Class C felony 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.
The bill drew fierce opposition from Democratic lawmakers, many of who claimed it would be used to deny access to the vote. Others questioned the motivation for the bill and asked for examples of voter fraud in Alabama.
State Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) called the bill "quite possibly the worst legislation I have ever seen."
England asked the bill's sponsor State Rep. Jamie Kiel (R-Russellville) if it would be illegal for a person to give their son $10 in gas money to pick up an absentee ballot application or to deliver the ballot.
Kiel responded that "nobody should be profiting from the ballot process." He also said that the process of having an absentee ballot mailed to a residence is relatively simple.
England retorted that the bill would make people criminals without any reference to their intent since the bill would make it a crime to pick up or deliver and ballot or a ballot application without any intention to cast a false vote.
"It's hard to celebrate democracy and be afraid of it at the same time," England said. "It's hard to promote and encourage people to participate in a process and say you want them to, but then criminalize them for getting assistance to do so.
He continued, "So, in Alabama, paying your son to go get you an absentee ballot application will get you the same punishment as somebody who robs you at gunpoint."
An amendment was offered in Committee to allow those who are blind, disabled or unable to read or write to receive assistance from anyone. The only person unable to assist a disabled person is their employer or union official, as per federal law.
After nearly two hours of debate, House Majority Leader Scott Stadthagen (R-Hartselle) offered a motion to cloture, which passed along party lines.
After an additional 10 minutes of debate, the bill passed 76-28, with one abstention from State Rep. Kenneth Paschal (R-Pelham). The bill will now go to the Senate for deliberation.
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