MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers on Thursday delayed a vote on a proposal to ban curbside voting as the state became the latest to debate new restrictions on voting.
The debate in the state that was home to key events in the voting rights movement reflected divisions playing out in statehouses nationwide, as Republican states seek to enact restrictions in the name of election integrity and Democrats push measures to make voting easier.
The Alabama Senate delayed a vote in the face of a Democratic filibuster. No Alabama counties are known to have used curbside voting in the last election, but groups have sought the authorization of the method to make it easier for the elderly, disabled, and parents with young children to cast ballots.
“I’m from Montgomery. I come from a family of individuals who literally fought for our rights to vote,” said Sen. Kirk Hatcher, D-Montgomery. “We should be providing opportunities for people to expand the right to vote.”
Republicans argued that the restriction is needed because it would be harder to control the voting process outside.
“We have worked to make it easy for everyone to vote. We want everyone to vote, but everyone’s ballot is a secret ballot and the integrity of that ballot is what we are trying to protect here,” Sen. Dan. Roberts, R-Mountain Brook, said.
Senators did approve a series of less contentious bills, including GOP legislation to move up the deadline to request an absentee ballot from five days before the election to seven days prior. Senators approved the bill on a 25-5 vote. It now returns to the Alabama House.
Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, said the measure is needed to accommodate postal service delays.
“It takes time to get there and back … This allows more time for people to vote. That is what this bill does. It doesn’t restrict it,” Gudger said. The bill originally pushed the deadline back to 10 days prior to an election, but senators accepted a Democratic amendment to compromise on seven days.
Senators voted 27-4 to approve a bill that makes it illegal for a person to vote in two states in the same election. Senators also voted 32-0 for a proposed constitutional amendment to require election law changes to take effect six months before the election. Both of those bills now move to the House of Representatives.
Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton said he agreed that voting in two states is “100% fraud” but questioned how much of that is happening.
Alabama saw record absentee voting in the 2020 election as rules were loosened during the COVID-19 pandemic and some counties opened weekend voting to accommodate voters eager to cast ballots ahead of Election Day. Secretary of State John Merrill said people could vote absentee if they had concerns about going to polling places. Normally a person must be out-of-town, ill, disabled or working a long shift to vote absentee.
Democratic efforts to allow early voting in Alabama or make it easier to vote by absentee ballot have fallen flat in the GOP-controlled Legislature.
Legislation by Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, to do away with the excuse requirement has not gotten out of committee. Hall said allowing people to vote early by absentee ballot would be a convenience to busy voters who may have difficulty getting to the polls during the 12-hour window on election day.
Hall said people were happy with the expanded opportunity to vote by absentee in November, and it is something the state should continue.
“I spent a lot of time working with different groups to take people to the polls. And I don’t know whether they’re Democrats or Republicans but they were certainly delighted that they had an opportunity to get that vote done before Nov. 3,” Hall said.
The secretary of state’s office initially supported the change to no excuse absentee voting, according to a presentation to a legislative committee. However, Merrill withdrew support. Merrill’s office said Thursday that he “believes the bill creates the perception that it would weaken Alabama’s already secure elections.”