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Bill would prohibit payments to groups that turn out voters

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

A lawmaker from north Alabama wants to close what he says is a loophole in state law that allows groups to be paid for turning out voters.

“I don’t think any person, or any organization should profit from someone else voting,” Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, said. “It was already illegal to pay somebody to vote, it just wasn’t illegal to pay an organization to get somebody to vote.”

Kiel’s House Bill 70, pre-filed for the 2021 legislative session, specifies that individuals and groups can’t make payments “on a per voter basis” to other individuals or groups, including churches.

In October, the Associated Press reported that the “New South Souls to the Polls Initiative” was paying churches a $6 contribution “for each documented early vote” to cover the expenses for outreach and transportation to help people vote early by absentee ballot.

The effort was organized by former state senator Hank Sanders, a Democrat from Selma. He said the $6 is intended to compensate groups for transportation, outreach and time to help people vote early and was not tied to how a person will vote.

“It says specifically no person can be paid to vote. This is not about paying anybody to vote. It’s about trying to encourage people,” Sanders told the AP.

The monetary amount is inconsequential to the idea of paying for voter efforts, Kiel said. 

“It doesn’t matter, liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, we should be voting because it’s our civic responsibility not because somebody paid us to do that.”

The New South Coalition is a predominately Black political group that is dedicated to the “progressive ideals of freedom, justice and democracy.” Sanders said the effort is being run by the New South Alliance LLC, an entity dedicated to get-out-the-vote efforts.

Secretary of State John Merrill told the AP that the $6 payments were legal as long as they weren’t tied to voting for particular candidates.

“It’s not illegal,” he said. “It’s certainly not a best practice.”

Merrill this week told Alabama Daily News that his office supports legislation that strengthens the electoral process and increases credibility. He said he heard from several lawmakers about the New South situation. 

“This is the first piece of legislation I’ve seen related to that, but I don’t anticipate it will be the last one,” Merrill said. 

Merrill said his office is working on more than 20 pieces of legislation for the 2021 session and he expects to roll them out soon. 

The session begins Feb. 2.

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