Few States Have as Many Obstacles to the Ballot
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Despite Alabama’s historic role in the voting rights movement, it remains one of the most difficult states for an eligible voter to register and successfully cast a ballot, according to a report released today by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
As neighboring states have expanded access to the ballot box, Alabama’s laws and policies create and perpetuate obstacles, particularly for communities of color, according to the report, Alive and Well: Voter Suppression and Election Mismanagement in Alabama. The report compiles for the first time a close look at the myriad tactics and harms of modern-day voter suppression in Alabama.
In Alabama, those tactics include passing and implementing a photo voter ID law, maintaining a burdensome and discriminatory restoration scheme for those with felony convictions, closing polling places in predominantly Black counties, and purging hundreds of thousands of voters from the voter rolls. These policies, like others rolled out across the country, came after the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This powerful provision was utilized by the U.S. Justice Department more than 100 times to block proposed voting changes in Alabama specifically that would have had a discriminatory impact on voters of color.
“After all the blood, sweat and tears Alabamians have shed for the right to vote, the state should be a model for how to expand access to the ballot,” said Nancy Abudu, SPLC deputy legal director. “Instead, Jim Crow continues to cast a long shadow on the state’s election system, which remains – by design – a confusing and opaque system filled with obstacles to voting for communities of color. Voter suppression is alive and well in Alabama.”
The report highlights how the state’s fragmented election administration system makes it difficult to hold officials responsible for failures on Election Day because duties are spread among a web of officials at the state and local levels.
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, which traces the history of voting rights in Alabama after Reconstruction into the modern era, also explores the state’s treatment of eligible voters with previous felony convictions. When Alabama, for example, passed reform legislation in 2017 to clarify the crimes that disenfranchise people convicted of a felony, the legislation not only failed to alleviate confusion, but the secretary of state’s office refused to take any serious steps to educate the public about the change. Half of all states have laws requiring people to be notified about the reinstatement or loss of their voting rights – but not Alabama. The state – among the poorest in the nation – also conditions the right to vote on a person’s wealth, preventing re-enfranchisement following certain felony convictions until all legal financial obligations are paid off.
Rather than focus on desperately needed reform, Alabama’s political leaders continue to promote the myth of voter fraud despite research providing overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The SPLC report urges lawmakers to adopt no-excuse absentee voting, early voting, vote by mail, same-day registration, automatic voter registration and voting rights restoration. Similarly, Alabama must make the state’s voter file a public document, create more opportunities for public participation in election administration, and establish uniform, statewide responsibilities for election operations.
“Alabama makes it hard to vote, but the problems are easy to fix,” Abudu said. “When taken together, the reform policies we lay out are proven strategies for creating a healthier, more representative democracy. Alabama should pursue these policies not only because it is in the best interest of voters to be able to access the ballot box, but also because it will modernize and ensure the integrity of Alabama’s elections.”
The full report is available at: www.splcenter.org/20200203/alive-and-well-voter-suppression-and-election-mismanagement-alabama