MONTGOMERY — It was a matter of time before the breakaway progress of the Alabama House's 2023 legislative session hit a speed bump, but last week's passage of State Rep. Jamie Kiel's (R-Russellville) anti-ballot harvesting bill appears to have been that mechanism.
House Bill 209 was derided by House Democrats long after its passage and spurred some tense moments between House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) and State Rep. Napoleon Bracy (D-Prichard).
Democratic lawmakers in both chambers fervently opposed it, claiming it would criminalize swaths of innocent people who have no intent to commit election fraud.
That has led to gridlock in recent days.
See: Bill designed to crack down on ballot harvesting passes House, despite lengthy Democratic protest.
Passions about the bill culminated in drama last week when State Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham) used debate time on a bill by State Rep. Kenneth Paschal (R-Pelham) to protest HB209.
During the debate, Givan referenced a Jay-Z song to refer to Paschal as an N-word.
In response to Givan's comments, House Speaker Pro-Tem Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) made several comments on Givan's conduct last week and throughout her tenure.
On Wednesday, the House Democratic Caucus held a press conference where House Democrats opposed the bill, saying it would target the elderly, disabled and those in more rural areas who lack access to specific resources needed to access absentee ballots.
"Sadly, last week, the Alabama House was on the wrong side of history when it passed House Bill 209, strictly along partisan lines, which will criminalize many of those who would help the elderly and disabled with their absentee ballots," said State Rep. Patrick Sellers (D-Birmingham). Not only is this wrong, but it also will have the chilling effect of causing some people to not vote at all out of fear."
Democrats pointed to the bill's dangers, saying a person could be charged with a crime if they merely pick up or distribute an absentee ballot or application.
The bill allows for someone in a person's household or part of their family to procure an absentee ballot or application. However, it also criminalizes any exchange of funds to do so. This led House Democrats to point out that a person could be charged with a felony for simply giving a member of their family "gas money" to pick up an absentee ballot or application.
1819 News spoke to Kiel after the House drama to address the complaints about the bill and its impact on the legislative proceedings.
According to Kiel, Democratic complaints about HB209, such as the "gas money" observation, do not hold much water for him.
"It is the most obscure example and the most far-fetched example that one could come up with," Kiel told 1819 News. "The truth is that no one should profit from the balloting process. You do not have to pay somebody to either retrieve or return an application or a ballot; it can be mailed to you. There are multiple people who can bring one to you and won't charge you; The circuit court clerk, the probate judge, or someone they appoint in your county. All the probate judge has to do is appoint someone to take it to you. If they won't do it, the Secretary of State will do the same thing."
Democrats also stated the bill would criminalize distributing ballot applications, a common practice amongst partisan and non-partisan groups.
Kiel said that Sec. of State Wes Allen, who supports the legislation, created a brochure detailing how a person can access their absentee ballot and application. The brochure has a phone number and a QR code that people can use to get a ballot mailed to them.
"No! We're not going to have groups of people going out door to door or targeting certain groups of people with ballot applications, and that is absolutely the intent of the bill is to keep the process safe and not have people out targeting others and getting them to absentee vote," Kiel said.
He continued, "I do not agree that groups need to be coming in from other places or groups actively participating in the voting process with another person." "...We want people that the person who is voting, that they know and trust."
"I would think that everybody would want the balloting process to be secure. Why this bill has garnered so much attention, I'm just not sure. Obviously, the vote was along party lines, so there is obviously some reason why one party voted for, and one party voted against."
Kiel expressly denied that disabled people would be affected since an amendment passed that exempted illiterate, disabled and blind individuals from being prosecuted under the bill.
On Thursday, State Rep. Napoleon Bracy (D-Prichard) attempted to address HB209 during debate on a bill that would offer educational benefits to spouses of military servicemembers killed on state active-duty status. The statements from Bracy caused House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter to gavel Bracy out and mute his microphone when Bracy persisted.
According to Kiel, Bracy's attempts to address military voting were moot since HB209 directly exempts military members from voting under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act.
"To have a military bill and try to link it back to a ballot harvesting bill that specifically excludes military members in writing, in the bill; I agree with [Ledbetter], that was not the subject of the bill and it has no link back to HB209."
To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.