In the 2023 regular legislative session, State Rep. Jamie Kiel (R-Russellville) sponsored House Bill 209 (HB 209), which would "prohibit any person from distributing, ordering, requesting, collecting, completing, obtaining, or delivering an absentee ballot application or absentee ballot of another person in certain circumstances."
It would also "prohibit a person from receiving a payment or providing a payment to another person for distributing, ordering, requesting, collecting, completing, obtaining, or delivering an absentee ballot application or absentee ballot of another person in certain circumstance."
Kiel said the legislation would help crack down on ballot harvesting and shore up the most vulnerable aspect of Alabama's elections.
"In Alabama, our Election Day is secure. We don't have modems. We don't have internet hooked up to our ballots. We just passed a law to ensure that we always have paper ballots in the state," Kiel said.
"I don't know another way to make Election Day more secure," he added. "Most unscrupulous activity occurs outside of election day. In Alabama, that is the absentee ballot. And so the goal was just to try to make the absentee ballot process as secure as possible."
According to Kiel, the bill will also rein in the overuse of the absentee ballot.
"The absentee ballot is intended to accommodate those who cannot participate in Election Day," he outlined. "It's not intended to be a replacement for Election Day."
HB 209 passed the House during the 2023 session but could not get through the Senate. However, Kiel believes there is a good chance it will get through in 2024.
"It should be easier to get it through because, in an election year, there's no more awareness of elections than in that year," Kiel explained.
He continued, "People seem to put it on the back burner, you know, they sometimes stop thinking about it for three years. And then when election year comes around, they're like, 'Oh my, this is still happening.' Well, you know, that's exactly the time to address it. So we made it a priority. Leadership in the House made it a priority. We got it passed. My understanding is that the Senate was going to take it up once we got it passed. It just, for one reason or another, just did not happen. And so I am optimistic that it can still pass and that it will still pass."
Some detractors claimed the bill would limit who could vote and prevent those with disabilities, such as blindness, from participating in elections. Kiel said that was untrue.
"The motivation behind the bill was never to limit the people who could vote," he outlined. "We want everybody who's legally able to vote to vote. The purpose behind the bill was always to stop those people who manipulate the process in some way or who are getting paid by the process."
The bill contains language that explicitly creates exceptions for those with disabilities.
"We explicitly said that we're going to do what we've always done, and that is follow the Voter Rights Act," he explained. "And it says that you cannot discriminate based on if they're blind or deaf, their disability, or the inability to read or write. So we explicitly put that in the bill that anyone with those conditions could have anyone they desired help fill out, or complete, or return an application or a ballot. Although we did that, that was continued to be used as an excuse not to pass the bill."
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