Filibuster delays House decision on voter registration

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Debate on a set of voting rights bills was delayed again Tuesday as House Democrats took turns speaking in an effort to filibuster. The bills would push the deadline to register to vote from 14 days to 30 days before an election, require photo ID with all absentee ballot applications, and require county election boards to purge voter lists of possibly deceased or ineligible voters.

As speaker after speaker took to the podium Tuesday during the scheduled motion to adopt a special calendar, House Democrats framed the measures as an effort to further challenge – rather than expand – voter rights in Alabama.

“Over the last election cycle, we had the lowest voting turnout in state history,” Rep. Darrio Melton said. “And that low turnout was based on the laws we already have. We need to be making this process easier, not more difficult. These new laws would only push us backwards.”

Lawmakers urged the House to consider public hearings and further debate on the following proposed laws:

  • HB 293  requires voters to submit photo identification with absentee ballot applications. Under the proposed legislation, no ballot could be issued until the photo ID requirement is satisfied.
  • HB 323 outlines how each county’s board of registrars will investigate reports that a registered voter has died or moved out of their precinct.
  • HB 104 changes deadlines for registering or updating voter information from 14 to 30 days before Election Day. In addition, the measure prohibits campaign materials or partisan outreach within 150 feet of a polling place. Currently, materials and campaign workers are allowed within 30 feet of the polls.

By contrast, the Kennedy-McClammy Act, HB 344, sponsored by Rep. Mike Jones, passed to the Senate with bipartisan support (99/1). The act prescribes a comprehensive list of felonies that involve moral turpitude, or conduct contrary to standards of justice or morality. Under Alabama’s constitution, those convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude are disqualify from voting. County election boards are currently free to adopt their own definitions, which can lead to subjective treatment of ex-offenders and uneven reinstatement of voting rights. With adoption of a uniform definition, those convicted of a felony would have clear guidelines for getting their vote reinstated.

Because the speeches took place during a routine calendar motion by the House Rules Committee – not during the debate on the bills themselves – there was little opportunity for House Republicans to counter arguments on the provisions in each bill.

At the start of the session, Representative Jack Williams told AL.com that he sponsored HB 104 after hearing from poll workers that the tight deadline made it difficult to prepare for Election Day.

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