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Report: Voter suppression ‘alive and well’ in Alabama

According to a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), entitled “Alive and Well: Voter Suppression and Election Mismanagement in Alabama,” a series of laws and policies enacted in Alabama have made it “one of the most difficult states for an eligible voter to register and successfully cast a ballot.”

“After all the blood, sweat and tears Alabamians have shed for the right to vote, the state should be a model for how to expand access to the ballot,” said SPLC Deputy Legal Director Nancy Abudu. “Instead, Jim Crow continues to cast a long shadow on the state’s election system, which remains – by design – a confusing and opaque system filled with obstacles to voting for communities of color. Voter suppression is alive and well in Alabama.”

The report lists the passage and implementation of voter identification laws, the “burdensome and discriminatory restoration scheme” by which felons’ voting rights are restored, the closure of polling places in predominantly-black areas and the purging of “hundreds of thousands of voters” from state voting roles as evidence of the state’s attack on voting rights.

Additionally, the SPLC report lists the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, which gutted a portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that blocked proposed voting changes in Alabama deemed discriminatory more than 100 times, as the catalyst for many of the laws passed thereafter.

The report doesn’t solely focus on contemporary failings in the state’s election system – one portion highlights how the state’s “fragmented election system” makes it difficult to hold elections officials accountable for failures on Election Day.

But, the report notes, the “lack of transparency” extends to points well beyond Election Day – election administration bodies hold few open meetings in a state where open records laws are among the weakest in the nation.

Additionally, the cost for a copy of the state’s voter file costs roughly $35,000, which puts such information beyond reach for most individuals and organizations interested in evaluating Alabama voter data, including the state’s “inflated and conflicting claims” regarding voter participation.

The report details the history of voting rights in Alabama from Reconstruction to today and pays close attention to the state’s treatment of eligible voters with previous felony convictions.

“When Alabama, for example, passed reform legislation in 2017 to clarify the crimes that disenfranchise people convicted of a felony, the legislation not only failed to alleviate confusion, but the [Alabama] Secretary of State’s office refused to take any serious steps to educate the public about the change,” a press release from SPLC stated. “Half of all states have laws requiring people to be notified about the reinstatement or loss of their voting rights – but not Alabama. The state – among the poorest in the nation – also conditions the right to vote on a person’s wealth, preventing re-enfranchisement following certain felony convictions until all legal financial obligations are paid off.”

The report asserts that the state continues to “promote the myth of voter fraud,” despite research showing “overwhelming” evidence to the contrary, rather than adopting “desperately needed reform.”

The Heritage Foundation found 18 cases of election fraud in Alabama between 2000 and 2017.

For its part, the SPLC is urging lawmakers to adopt “no excuse” absentee ballot voting – such legislation was introduced by Alabama Rep. Prince Chestnut, D-Selma, last session and has been reintroduced this year by one of Chestnut’s Democratic colleagues – as well as early voting and vote by mail options, same-day registration and automatic registration and voting rights restoration.

Further, the SPLC asserts that the state’s voter file must be made public, that more opportunities must be created for the public to participate in election administration and that “uniform, statewide responsibilities” must be established for election operations across the state.

“Alabama makes it hard to vote, but the problems are easy to fix,” Abudu said. “When taken together, the reform policies we lay out are proven strategies for creating a healthier, more representative democracy. Alabama should pursue these policies not only because it is in the best interest of voters to be able to access the ballot box, but also because it will modernize and ensure the integrity of Alabama’s elections.”

To read the full report, visit www.splcenter.org.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the assertions made in the SPLC report.