Republicans in the Alabama Legislature are expected to take up a bill to increase the penalties for ballot harvesting in Alabama early in the 2024 session.

The legislation, SB1, would raise ballot harvesting from a misdemeanor to a felony if passed and signed into law.

Critics claim the law would "criminalize" absentee ballot assistance. However, State Sen. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) argues against such claims because he says assistance provisions are protected by federal statute.

SEE ALSO: State Sen. Gudger pre-files controversial ballot harvesting bill for 2024 regular session

During an appearance on Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5's "The Jeff Poor Show," the Cullman County Republican lawmaker said the legislation would not do as some critics have suggested.

"The great thing is that they're covered under federal law," he said. "This is not about the disabled, the hearing-impaired, the deaf and the veterans that are overseas. All of them have protections that I'm not touching in this bill. And so, I want to make sure that the people who are listening today realize that if you're overseas, if you're a veteran, if you are disabled in any way, you're still able to get full help in being able to turn your absentee ballots and applications and your ballots in. So having said that — that is a federal law that we're not touching. It is the fact that what is happening in this state is what this bill is touching."

Gudger said he believed opponents of his bill feared having an election "tool" taken away from them with a crackdown on absentee ballot abuse.

"[I] do believe that this is a tool that has been in the tool belt for certain people for a long time, and they know how to get around the system," Gudger added. "And they've been using it forever, so I think there are certain parties om the opposite party I'm in saying we still want this to happen because it helps get certain people in office. Well, in that particular county -- it is not fair to the other voters that are there. Whether you're for that person or not, you might be voting in that same party for somebody else. The key here is that you have fair and safe elections instead of somebody cheating and that's exactly what we're trying to stop in this bill. But again, it doesn't matter which party you're in and who you're for. You want to make sure your vote counts, it's secure and that someone else isn't cheating and again, that's what this bill does only. It is not for one party or the other. It is for everyone in the state of Alabama."

Jeff Poor is the editor in chief of 1819 News and host of "The Jeff Poor Show," heard Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-noon on Mobile's FM Talk 106.5. To connect or comment, email [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jeff_poor.

Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.