Alabama elections bill faces pushback from voting rights advocates

Published: Mar. 8, 2022 at 7:21 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Alabama secretary of state and voting rights organizations are on the same page about opposing a bill they say could make it harder to vote in the state. The bill would prohibit a state or local official from accepting private money to conduct elections.

Their biggest concern right now is that voter education would decrease, which they say could also affect voter turnout.

“We want to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat,” said Secretary of State John Merrill.

Merrill is concerned H.B. 194 would hinder education that makes it easier to vote.

“Anybody that’s interested in improving the electoral process and election administration to be able to participate at whatever level is legal for them to do so,” he said.

The bill would “prohibit certain public officials responsible for the conduct of an election...from soliciting, accepting or using certain donations from an individual or nongovernmental entity...for funding certain election-related expenses.”

“We saw the use of private money in the 2020 election that came from Mark Zuckerberg through the Center for Tech and Civic Life around the country to a lot of local jurisdictions,” said Rep. Wes Allen, sponsor of the bill.

He says this is why he filed the legislation.

Those expenses include voter education and outreach, paying poll workers and buying equipment. These are prohibited in the bill, which is why voting rights organizations met Tuesday morning to voice their opposition.

“It is a direct attack on grassroots organizations who have been driving this work consistently,” said JaTaune Bosby, executive director for ACLU Alabama. “Driving this work, getting people to the polls, driving people to the polls, focusing on voter education outside of election cycles.”

Allen says private nonprofit organizations can educate and assist the public themselves but not in coordination with the government.

“As far as partnering with a local elected official who is responsible for the conduct of an election, they wouldn’t be able to do that, but they can go just to the general public,” said Allen.

Allen and Merrill have not talked about this bill. It did make it through a House committee but has not been heard on the House floor.

The bill is on the special order calendar for a vote in the House Wednesday.

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