MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — In a newly released report, the Southern Poverty Law Center is calling on Alabama to make major changes to its voting process.
In “Alive and Well: Voter Suppression and Election Mismanagement in Alabama,” the SPLC claims Alabama remains one of the most difficult states for an eligible voter to register and successfully cast a ballot. They also reference neighboring states have implemented the suggestions listed in the report.
“This is really about ensuring that every eligible voter is able to register and is able to vote. We should be expanding access to the ballot we should be improving opportunities for people to register,” said Caren Short, SPLC’s senior staff attorney on voting rights.
One of the issues mentioned in the report is the state’s voter ID law. In order to vote in Alabama, you must present a photo ID before accessing a ballot. SPLC calls the process burdensome and discriminatory for formally incarcerated people, people of color and low-income individuals. They say these policies came after the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder case regarding the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This section required certain states and local governments to obtain federal pre-clearance before implementing any changes to their voting laws.
The report also cited the closing of polling places in predominantly black counties, as well as purging hundreds of thousands of voters from the voter rolls.
“One reason it was important that we have section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, these polling place closures wouldn’t have happened,” Short said.
When it comes to increasing voter turn out, the SPLC would like to see: early voting, no excuse absentee voting, felon voter restoration and calls voter ID laws burdensome.
The report also looks at the state’s election administration system. SPLC is calling for more oversight on how counties conduct their elections.
“Power is really centered in the county officials, and the secretary of state’s office doesn’t have a lot of oversight over the county officials, and this creates a lot of issues on election day,” Short said.
We took these concern and the report to Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill.
“I have no idea what they’re talking about, because one of the things we did in 2017, and it took us three years to pass this legislation, we had a concern about ‘moral turpitude’ which is limiting quantification to be able to participate in the electoral process. We passed legislation to insure that all the laws were the same in all 67 counties, so that each and every voting applicant would be treated the same way. All of our election are conducted the same way, I really have no idea what they’re talking about. We offer and provide safe and secure elections with integrity and credibility in all 67 counties throughout the state of Alabama,” Merrill said.
The lack of transparency isn’t confined to Election Day, the report found.
“Election administration bodies hold few open meetings, and the state’s open records laws are among the weakest in the nation. What’s more, a copy of the state’s voter file costs approximately $35,000. The steep price tag puts the file out of reach for most Alabamians and organizations interested in data about voting in Alabama – including verifying the state’s inflated and conflicting claims of voter participation,” the report stated.
Merrill said anyone who wants to gain access to the voter file list can do so. It costs one cent per name, per record for each person that they like to gain access to.
“That information they’re welcome to make application for will process it and we’ll sell it to them and then they can have the 440,683 new voters that we’ve registered since January 19, 2015. Or they can buy the entire list, which is 3,564,263 total voters in the state of Alabama.”
The report also claims the state has not done enough to educate those who have been released prison on how to go about applying for a Certificate of Eligibility to Register to Vote.
Merrill said accessing voter registration information is part of the former inmates release.
“That’s part of the system that has to be followed when those things are introduced to them as they’re getting ready to leave the point of incarceration. This is a part of that process to make sure that they are properly educated about what their options are related to voting,” he said.