HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - U.S. Sen. Doug Jones is among Senate Democrats calling for an overhaul of U.S. voting laws and campaign finance laws.
A similar, expansive bill was passed by the U.S. House, along party lines, earlier this year.
The measure includes same-day voter registration, new paper ballot standards for states, money for election systems and would target voter suppression tactics.
Jones said he’s surprised the push for voting rights has become a partisan issue.
“In the last few years we’ve seen a whole segment of our population that have had their voting rights restricted,” Jones said. “It’s harder to get to the polls, it’s harder to vote, it’s harder to register.”
Adrian Muller, president of the Alabama Nonviolent Offenders Organization, has helped lead the call in Alabama to allow people who’ve committed a criminal offense to have their voting rights restored. Muller said those citizens should have their rights restored to enable them to fully participate in society and help elect who represents them.
The Senate bill would grant the right to vote to people once they leave prison and are participating in a probation program.
“You are an American citizen and a person who has committed an offense against the citizens of our country,” Muller said. “And society says you’ve paid your debt to society.”
But Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill says he has concerns about the bill.
“I have encouraged Senator Jones, other members of Alabama’s Congressional Delegation, and the House Committee on Homeland Security, to work with state and local election leaders to develop the best approach to address these issues,” Merrill said.
WHNT News 19 asked Merrill’s office for particular areas of concern about the bill, but we’ve not yet received a reply. His statement continued: “I find it disappointing and very frustrating to know that the legislation this Congress is proposing appears to have disregarded this advice and counsel. Further, H.R. 1 appears to have been written completely without input from the state and local elected officials and staff that administer these election processes each and every day.”
Jones said more needs to be done to protect the vote and it’s not a partisan issue.
“Voting is not just a right and a privilege, it is one of those things that everybody has a duty to do,” he said. “And if they’ve got a duty we need to make that easier for people to exercise that duty.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the bill, which is cosponsored by every Senate Democrat, is a power grab. Jones said he doesn’t expect McConnell to bring the bill to the Senate floor.