Chestnut offers 2 bills aimed at voter access

Published 3:13 pm Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Alabama Rep. Prince Chestnut, D-Selma, has introduced two bills that would expand access to the ballot box by establishing automatic voter registration and removing prohibitions on absentee voting.

Chestnut’s automatic voter registration bill, modeled after similar legislation approved in West Virginia, would automatically register a person to vote when obtaining, updating or renewing an Alabama driver’s license or non-driver identification cards.

“Let’s remove barriers to voting,” Chestnut said. “This should be an easy bill to pass if we want to do the right thing in this state. I fear that this bill will languish in committee because of partisanship, but it deserves an up or down vote.”

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Along with the benefit to voters, Chestnut said the bill stands to offer a variety of benefits to the state, including a reduction in the cost of updating voter records and an increase in the number of people casting ballots.

“As far as savings, it cost $7.67 in 2008 to update a voter on paper,” Chestnut said. “The estimated cost for electronic or automatic voter registration will be around 3-cents per voter registered. This is common sense.”

Further, Chestnut noted that voter turnout increased by 10 percent in Georgia when that state implemented automatic registration and the change would not result in an increased workload for employees in the Secretary of State’s office, which oversees elections in the state.

Chestnut’s bill would allow for citizens to opt out of automatic voter registration if they choose and would allow for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) and the Secretary of State’s office to develop rules for the program.

Chestnut’s absentee voting bill simply allows for citizens to cast an absentee ballot without providing an excuse or explanation for why they need to do so.

Under current law, an Alabama citizen wishing to cast an absentee ballot must meet certain criteria prescribed by law – Chestnut’s bill eliminates that criteria and allows anyone to cast an absentee ballot.

“First responders should be able to vote early because you don’t know what may happen on election day that may call them away,” Chestnut said. “Utility workers don’t know when a power line, gas line or a water line will become inoperable. Senior citizens or persons over a certain age should not have to wait in long lines on election day.”