If passed, HB256 would require the governing body of each county to open at least one early voting center 14 days before an election. The bill would also require any early voting center to be open no less than four days and no more than six days during the one-week period immediately preceding election day. Additionally, centers must be open from 9am to 5pm Monday – Saturday, and 1pm to 5pm on Sundays.
Early voting is part of the Democrats’ 2019 legislative agenda, which was released by the Alabama House Democratic Caucus on Thursday, March 21. Also included in the agenda was automatic voter registration and restoration, Medicaid expansion, medical marijuana legalization, and a lottery.
House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D, Huntsville), a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a phone interview Wednesday that the primary goal of HB256 is to increase voting access for the people of Alabama, especially those who work third shifts or have longer commutes to their jobs. He believes the bill would also ease the strain on poll workers.
“We’ve seen other states that have done it,” Daniels said, “so we’ve seen extremely successful models out there. It increases turnout and voters don’t feel strained by just one day.”
Daniels said that the issue of early voting has been brought to him a number of times by his constituents.
“It’s come up in the listening sessions and we want to be responsive to the request,” he said.
In order to pass the bill, Democrats will need bipartisan support from Alabama’s Republican supermajority, which may prove difficult to secure. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, who oversees the state’s elections, has been vocal about his opposition to early voting in the past, citing exorbitant costs and few benefits.
Attempts to reach Secretary Merrill about HB256 were unsuccessful. However, in a 2018 interview with AL.com, he seemed to close the door on early voting, stating, “There is no future for early voting as long as I’m Secretary of State.” That said, Merrill has proposed eliminating the excuse requirement for absentee voters.
Alabama has never had true early voting. The closest the state has come was roughly 20 years ago when voters, who would have otherwise voted absentee, were allowed to vote at the polls two days before the 1998 midterm election and one day before the 2000 presidential election. However, this practice was ended in 2001.
Despite the obstacles, Daniels seems optimistic that the Democrats can work with the Republicans to push the legislation through.
“I’ve not had an issue working in a bipartisan manner,” Daniels said. “This is nothing new for me. It’s all about how you figure out where there’s common ground. I believe there is common ground.”
Daniels also said that the Democrats plan to release a full package of voting bills in the near future.
After introduction, the bill was referred to the House of Representatives committee on Constitution, Campaigns, and Elections.