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Voting rights advocates are organizing against new voter suppression bill

This story was originally published by Alabama Political Reporter.

The Alabama Voting Rights Coalition is leading an effort by voting rights advocates to stop a bill that would create more challenges for voters who need assistance with absentee voting ballot applications.

HB209, sponsored by Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, would prohibit people from distributing, ordering, collecting, completing, obtaining, or delivering an absentee ballot of another person except for certain circumstances. If found guilty of violating this law individuals could be charged a Class D felony resulting in 1 to 5 years behind bars.

The bill would prohibit and charge individuals from paying or receiving money for assisting with an absentee ballot application. If a person knowingly receives a payment they can be found guilty of a Class C felony equal to 1 to 10 years of imprisonment. If a person knowingly pays another individual to assist with their absentee ballot they could be found guilty of a Class B amounting to 2 to 20 years of imprisonment.

“Alabamians have the right to receive help from whoever they want with their absentee ballot and denying them that right unfairly diminishes their voice in government,” said Katie Glenn, senior policy associate for Alabama with the SPLC Action Fund. “It’s unfathomable that state legislators are criminalizing good Samaritans for helping their neighbors vote and leaving many Alabamians who need that help with no one to turn to.”

Organizers say the bill would have a chilling effect in limiting the work of voting organizations and criminalizing senior citizens and people with disabilities seeking help with their absentee ballot application. 

Advocates also say the bill likely violates the Americans with Disability Act and section 208 of the Voting Rights Act. 

The bill is part of a nationwide strategy from conservative lawmakers since the 2020 presidential election targeting “voter fraud”. In August 2022 several Florida voters were charged and arrested for committing voter fraud after changes to the state law. Voters in Florida have talked about their fear and confusion surrounding the new voting laws.

Organizers fear HB209 could create fear and confusion in Alabama as well specifically for Black voters.

“House Bill 209 will incite fear and confusion for vulnerable and underserved voters who have in the past obtained information and assistance from trusted, non-profit, non-partisan organizations such as the League of Women Voters,” said Kathy Jones, president of the League of Women Voters Alabama. “There is no actual problem with voter fraud in the current Alabama absentee ballots process.

Organizers urge the community to oppose the bill as it will go before the House Constitution, Campaigns, and Elections committee at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, April 19 in the Capitol Meeting Room for a public hearing.