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Legislature passes bill criminalizing “ballot harvesting”

If vote harvesting wasn't an issue before, it clearly isn't expected to be now, as the Alabama House of Representatives voted along party lines Thursday to create criminal penalties for ballot harvesting practices.

For the past two years, critics of the bill have asked for evidence that it is necessary, but lawmakers are either unable or unwilling to do so. Supporters of the bill argue that the bill is a victory for election security, even though Alabama already has one of the most secure election systems in the nation.

“Ballot harvesting'' means an entity or individual who knowingly orders, requests, collects, pre-submits, obtains, or delivers an absentee ballot application or absentee ballot other than his or her own absentee ballot. “This is an attempt to benefit from the voting process, either by application or by absentee ballot,” Sen. Garlan Gajar said in a statement. “SB1 will help strengthen Alabama's absentee voting process while protecting disabled voters and protecting overseas military voters. Makes it illegal to pay or accept payments to assist in filling out forms.”

One of the main concerns of critics over the years has been that the bill would create barriers to voting for voters with disabilities. Changes to the law have made that less likely, but critics remain concerned that the law could suppress voting by putting voters in fear of criminal prosecution.

“SB 1 is a classic example of MAGA voter suppression at work,” said Tracy Adair, an Alabama native and communications manager for Stand Up America. “It is cruel and anti-democratic to deny older voters, voters with disabilities, and other voters with additional needs from receiving assistance by threatening them with possible criminal charges. Laws are of no use in a free country.”

The majority of the bill has been sufficiently altered that the only motive for criminal charges against the majority of the bill is the exchange of money. Democratic lawmakers continued to express concern that families paying for gas and even stamps could suddenly turn an innocuous act of assistance into a Class B felony.

It is a crime under the law to distribute pre-filled absentee ballot applications without any money being exchanged.

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The bill currently awaits Governor Kay Ivey's signature.

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