By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A new polls shows Alabama voters take seriously their right to access the State House during legislative sessions, but are open to alternate locations to ensure safe meetings amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In a survey of general election voters taken by Cygnal for Alabama Daily News, 75.7% said that the public should have access to the State House if the Legislature meets, provided everyone is wearing masks and observing proper safety protocols. That’s compared to 18.9% who said no, the public should not have access, while 5.5% were unsure.
“If the State Legislature does meet, should members of the public have access to the Statehouse during the session, provided members of the public are wearing masks and observing safety precautions?”
Asked how important it was to them for citizens to have in-person access to their elected representatives while the Legislature is meeting, 77.1% said it was important while 18.9% said it wasn’t.
“How important is it to you for citizens to have in-person access to their elected representatives while the Legislature is meeting and conducting business?”
|Somewhat not important
|Definitely not important
|Total not important
Inside Alabama Politics recently reported that discussions have taken place among state legislative leaders about how to safely conduct a legislative session, whether a special later this year or the regular scheduled for February, with the threat of COVID-19 still very present. The State House itself presents unique challenges due to its low ceilings, small meeting rooms and cramped hallways.
Alternative locations, such as the Renaissance convention center in downtown Montgomery, have been discussed as possibilities to allow for more social distancing and better public access.
Voters would support such a move, the poll showed.
A full 83.4% said they would support the Legislature meeting in a larger building that would allow lawmakers to meet safely and the public to have access to the proceedings. Just 12.4% said they would not support such an arrangement, while 4.1% were unsure.
“If the Legislature could not meet safely in the Statehouse and could not safely allow public access into the building, would you support the Legislature meeting at a larger building that would allow the Legislature to meet safely and allow the public access?”
Voters were more split at the prospect of public access only existing through video conferencing or chatroom. Asked if they considered those technological means to be adequate access and participation for citizens in the legislative process, 54.7% said yes, while 37.1% said no.
“Some have discussed the idea of the State Legislature conducting its work via Zoom or video conferencing, and some have proposed voting on bills remotely. Do you consider observing the legislative session through Zoom or video conferencing or chat room to be adequate access and participation for citizens in the legislative process?”
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However, the partisan split was stark on this question. A plurality of Republican voters, 47.8%, said they did not consider video conferencing to be adequate public access and 28.4% said they definitely opposed the idea. Meanwhile, Democrats were more strongly in favor, with 79.1% saying they thought video conferencing provided sufficient public access and 13.9% saying it did not.
Below are the cross tab “heatmaps” provided by Cygnal showing the demographic breakdowns of the questions on moving the location of the legislative session and whether the public should have in-person access if and when the Legislature meets.
The survey was conducted Nov. 16-17 among 600 likely general election voters and has a margin of error of +/- 4.0%. Known registered voters were interviewed via live phone calls, interactive voice response and text message invitation in Cygnal’s multi-mode survey method. The survey was weighted to reflect a likely general election voter universe.