MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday requiring county probate judges to conduct mandatory ballot audits after every county and statewide election. 

House Bill 259 (HB259), sponsored by State Rep. Debbie Wood (R-Valley), would require the probate judge of each county to conduct a post-election audit of each county and statewide general election to determine the accuracy of the originally reported results.

Secretary of State Wes Allen has lent his support to the bill.

According to Wood, the bill's primary purpose is to ensure that election tabulators, which she contends are often very old, are properly functioning.

The substituted legislation would require a post-election manual audit after every county and statewide general election consisting of a manual tally of all ballots in at least one randomly selected precinct for one countywide or statewide race, chosen randomly by the canvassing board. Any audit would occur after the 30 days allowed for an election contest has passed.

According to Wood, the substituted bill would require that provisional and absentee ballots not be counted in an audit. She said probate judges requested that provision. The state would also reimburse counties for the costs incurred by performing the audit. The fiscal note on the bill estimates a $525 per-county cost, totaling $35,000 across all 67 counties.  

Initially, the bill stated that the audit would be hand-counted. However, according to Wood, the new version allows audits to be conducted with a "clean" tabulator that was not used in any actual election.

Some House Democrats used up debate time mostly with issues not related to the bill.

State Rep. Mary Moore (D-Birmingham) briefly addressed Medicaid expansion and then questioned the lack of reason behind HB259.

"At least three-fourths or more of the bills that we've seen this year has been based upon one incident or on how some one person or two people felt," Moore said. "And in all cases that we have looked at this year, there has been no heard paper facts to prove that there was some irregularities going on just like with your bill. Unless we can show that over a period of time, we've got data to prove some irregularities have been going on, I think that we do the public a disservice, and we spend monies from our state treasuries that we need for other more important things that we as legislators should be about than how somebody felt as it relates to an election."  

House Republicans spoke exclusively in favor of the legislation.

"As the great state of Alabama, we should always try to enhance our elections' integrity," said State Rep. Kenneth Paschal (R-Pelham). "It doesn't have to always be a problem with the elections. As someone who served this great nation for 21-and-a-half years in the Army, I take pride in our freedom and part of that is our having accurate elections."

State Rep. Jamie Kiel (R-Russelville) joined most in the chamber, believing that the state's elections are secure, but additional precautions are never bad.

"I believe that election day is secure in Alabama," Kiel said. "However, if we can do something to make it more secure, I'm okay with that."

The bill passed with a vote of 83-7 with nine abstentions. It will now go to the Senate for deliberation.

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