Tuesday, March 17th, 2020
We proposed common sense reforms to make our civic institutions more resilient. COVID-19 may be the current disruption of our elections, but no one should be so naive as to think it will be the last disruption we will face. Alabama must offer in-person early voting in every county across the state, offer no-excuse absentee voting and vote-by-mail, and immediately convene a bipartisan working group to explore how to make our elections more resilient.
These are incremental changes with nationwide track records of success. Alabama, the cradle of voting rights, should adapt and create a responsive voting system that allows working families, students, and voters with limited mobility the best chance at full participation.
1. In-person early voting.
The overwhelming majority of states allow some form of in-person early voting, including Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia. All of our neighboring states allows early voting but Mississippi.
There is already a proposal in the Alabama Legislature to enact early voting. H.B. 30 is sponsored by Rep. Thomas Jackson (D-Thomasville) and Rep. Kirk Hatcher (D-Montgomery) would require at least one early voting location in each county to be open for a two-week period before election day so a qualified Alabama voter could cast a ballot.
2. No-excuse absentee voting, including vote by mail.
Currently, Alabama law limits the reasons a voter may cast an absentee ballot to five specific reasons. Secretary Merrill has used his emergency powers to override Alabama Code section 17-11-3(a)(1) through (5), which shows those limitations have outlived their usefulness.
There is already a proposal in the Legislature to fix this problem. H.B. 251, sponsored by Rep. Laura Hall (D-Huntsville), would make no-excuse absentee voting the law, and not just a one-time exception. This needs to be fully open and legal, not subject to the whims of elections officials.
In two-thirds of the states, voters have the option of voting no-excuse absentee.
Four states conduct their elections entirely by mail. Oregon has had two decades of experience voting by mail. Washington, Colorado, and Hawaii all have gone to vote-by-mail elections within the last decade.
A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts determined vote-by-mail in Colorado reduced election administration costs by 40% in counties with available data. Vote by mail also increases voter participation, especially among those with mobility issues.
3. Bipartisan working group.
This group should be convened immediately in a way that complies with CDC and ADPH guidance for COVID-19 prevention, including teleworking. It should explore drive-up voting, mail-out ballots with drive-up return, and other sensible solutions to minimize the likelihood that voters, elections officials, or poll workers could contract a deadly disease because they exercised their most fundamental right.
Probate judges, lawyers, and elections officials will benefit from strategic foresight from other disciplines. We recommend including the following:
We need a serious, non-ideological examination of how to ensure Alabama’s elections are secure and accessible to all Alabama voters in November 2020 and for years to come.
This working group should report back with actionable steps within 30 days so we can implement their recommendations before November.
We must protect the health and safety of voters, elections officials, and poll workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. And now is the time to protect the fundamental rights of full electoral participation for every Alabama voter and ensure our civic institutions are resilient against modern threats. Every qualified voter should be able to cast a ballot in this election. It doesn’t matter whether they’re Democrats or Republicans, it only matters that they’re Alabama voters.
It’s past time to pass these reforms. Voting should be easy.