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There’s just not one good reason for any Alabama politician on either side of the aisle to refrain from giving enthusiastic support to HB256 which would allow early voting fourteen days prior to an election without the voter having to offer an excuse. Currently, early voting exists in 37 states and the District of Columbia.  It’s a no-brainer that would help folks who work third shifts or who work in other cities.  It would also cut down on long lines at the polls on election day, which would certainly make everyone happy.

Of course, there always seems to be a fly in the ointment when Alabama is making a move to do something progressive and in alignment with other states. Our big buzzing fly happens to be AL Sec. of State John Merrill who thinks early voting is too expensive and doesn’t think it will make any real difference.  Admittedly, it may cost a little more, but it seems like a worthwhile expense to ensure that more citizens are able to exercise their most important civil right.  Further, it would eliminate long lines at polls which burdens poll workers and discourages many people from casting a ballot.

Also, Merrill is ignoring evidence that shows significant increases in voter participation amongst younger people when voter registration is made easier and when access to the polls isn’t solely limited to a Tuesday. It just seems odd that every time there’s a discussion about making voting easier, our fly in the ointment, Merrill, is opposed to doing anything that would encourage more folks to participate in our elections.

In fairness, Merrill is a proponent of getting rid of part of the existing absentee ballot law that requires voters to give an excuse as to why they need one in the first place.  However, this may only represent Merrill’s own disdain for concocting excuses. Perhaps, he feels compelled to continually invent them to justify his own extreme, highly partisan political positions, his perpetual advocacy for voter disenfranchisement, and his unsubstantiated claims that there’s widespread voter fraud.

If Merrill cared about the validity of elections rather than just being an ointment fly, he would be better served to advocate an end to the unethical and widespread practice of gerrymandering in Alabama. He’d do everything in his power to ensure that every eligible voter could easily register and ensure that they had every opportunity to vote. Instead, Merrill continually uses rhetoric that characterizes voting as a privilege, rather than a constitutional right for every legal citizen.

Hopefully, this bill will find robust bipartisan support. Aside from Merrill’s flimsy, buzzing opposition, no one has really articulated any sensible reasons as to why this important piece of legislation shouldn’t pass. Voters would be wise to call or write their representatives and express their views. This could really help many people who have legitimate obstacles in getting to the polls. Further, it would be helpful to educate legislators about how long the lines are at some polling locations and how that disenfranchises people.

This bill is another opportunity for Alabama to move forward. For too long, we’ve approached sensible legislation like this with an obstinate attitude of baseless oppositional defiance. It’s almost like we automatically reject an idea if we find out it’s successfully being implemented in a majority of other states. Again, this isn’t a partisan idea, it’s something that will benefit both parties and, ultimately, benefit the entire state. It’s critically important that we encourage citizens to participate in their government and to exercise their right to vote.

Voting is our most important right. Blood has been shed to preserve this sacred right and we must do everything we can to ensure that people have the opportunity to participate in our democracy. Can we call ourselves a democracy if we continue to make it harder for our citizens to vote?

Clete Wetli

Clete Wetli is former Chair of the Madison County Democrats and a liberal political activist.
Clete Wetli