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Bill would make it a felony to help people who vote absentee

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Republicans in the Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday approved legislation that would make it a felony to help a voter fill out an absentee ballot.

House Representatives approved the bill with a 76-28 vote that fell almost entirely on party lines, after Republicans voted to cut off a filibuster by Democratic lawmakers. The bill now moves to the Alabama Senate.

Republicans said that penalties are needed to promote election security, and to crack down on what they called “ballot harvesting,” or the mass collection of ballots. House Democrats say that there is no evidence of this sort of illegal activity, and that the measure would criminalize the actions of civic groups and well-meaning people who help others vote. They called it an attempt to make it harder for people to vote and said the legislation would hand out punishments comparable with burglary.

The bill by Republican Rep. Jamie Kiel would make it a Class D felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, for a person to “knowingly distribute, order, request, collect, prefill, obtain, or deliver an absentee ballot application or absentee ballot in addition to his or her own absentee ballot application or absentee ballot.”

The penalty would jump to a Class B felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, to pay someone to help with a ballot; and a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years, to receive that payment.

“Don’t take this personal, but this is quite possibly the worst piece of legislation that I’ve ever seen,” said Democratic Rep. Chris England from Tuscaloosa. He said paying a family member $10 to pick up an absentee ballot for you would bring a punishment in line with burglary.

Kiel responded that, “profiting from voting should not happen.”

“The intent here is not to keep people from voting but to make sure our process is secure as possible,” Kiel from Russellville, said.

The bill allows an exemption for family members to help with an absentee ballot — only if they are not paid to do so. The bill also says there is an affirmative defense if the voter being helped is blind, disabled or unable to read or write, provided there is no payment involved.

Rep. Mary Moore, a Black Democrat from Birmingham, says the state has a long history of attempting to suppress the rights of disenfranchised groups. Moore called the legislation an attempt to make it harder for people to vote, comparing it to how her parents once had to save money throughout the year in order to to pay poll taxes.

“In most countries they do everything in their power to make sure that every citizen of voting age is able to vote,” Moore said. “No matter how the help comes.”

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