(VitalNews.org) – Alabama got one step closer to criminalizing the act of helping a voter fill out an absentee ballot on May 4th after state House Republicans approved a bill along party lines.
House members voted 76-28 for the bill after Republicans were able to stop a filibuster from Democratic colleagues, and the bill now goes to the state Senate.
Bill proponents say the legislation is aimed at the practice of “ballot harvesting.” The term usually applies to organized efforts to collect a large number of ballots from voters and is usually thought of as a way that bad actors can improperly influence election results.
Democrats in the Alabama House say there’s no good evidence of illegal activity around political ballots. They say the bill would target nonprofit organizations that they say are merely helping people to vote, and that the legislation would treat these helpers as if they had committed burglary.
Chris England, a Democratic state Rep., said the bill was “quite possibly the worst piece of legislation” he had ever seen. He said if you paid someone in your family $10 to pick up your ballot, you’d be treated like a burglar under the state’s criminal code.
Bill Sponsor Republican Jamie Kiel countered by saying no one should be able to profit from voting. Under the legislation, it would be illegal to deliver, distribute, or help any other person fill out that other person’s absentee ballot. Those found guilty would face felony charges and face up to five years in prison.
If a person is found guilty of paying someone else to help with ballots, the charges would be upgraded to a more serious felony that carries up to a 20-year prison term.
There is an exemption in the bill for immediate family members who help with the completion or delivery of a ballot, but it would still be illegal to pay a family member for this help. How this would be enforced is not clear.
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