Craig Ford - Why Alabama should allow early voting

March 4, 2016 chris
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This week, voters across Alabama went to the polls to cast their ballots and make their voices heard. In November, we will do it all over again.

More than three million people are registered to vote in Alabama, and in the last presidential election, 73 percent of those people actually turned out to vote. This November, turnout could be even higher.

Elections are at the heart of our democracy; the right to vote is one of our most cherished values. But for many Alabamians, finding the time to vote can be an inconvenience.

Between dropping kids off at school or taking them to after-school events, putting in a full day’s work (often working more than one job or a job that requires more than just eight hours a day) and taking care of their other responsibilities, it’s hard for a lot of Americans to find time to go vote.

That’s why 37 states have adopted early voting.

Early voting simply allows people to cast their ballots prior to Election Day. Some states allow people to vote by mail, while others allow them to vote at designating early voting polling places. But either way, the idea is to better accommodate voters’ busy schedules.

Early voting is not a partisan political issue. Conservative states have embraced it, as have liberal and swing states. Only 13 states, including Alabama, do not currently allow early voting. But now is the time for Alabama to change that.

By allowing early voting, we would make voting easier for busy Alabamians trying to juggle voting in with the rest of their day. Voting shouldn’t be a hassle someone has to wake up early, rush through on a lunch break or wait for in a long line on their way home from work.

Early voting has been extremely popular in other states and can lead to higher voter turnout. In Texas, where early voting began more than 30 years ago, some counties have seen more than 60 percent of votes cast before Election Day; more than two million voters cast their ballots early during the last three presidential elections, with the trend continuing to increase.

The convenience of being able to vote on a weekend or an earlier day can increase turnout. Voters who can’t vote during the designated Election Day can vote on a weekend, or on a different day when they are off work or have a looser schedule. Some college students would be able to vote when they go home for the weekend instead of trying to change their voter registration or, more often than not, just not voting at all.

Utilizing early voting can help prevent voter fraud by reducing the amount of absentee ballot voting. Absentee ballots are meant as a way for voters who are traveling, have work obligations or are deployed with the military to be able to cast their votes when they cannot vote in person on Election Day. The system has been abused over the years, and is now the most common way that voter fraud occurs.

If we had early voting, we could significantly reduce the number of people voting by absentee. Absentee voting would, essentially, only be used by those in the military, some people traveling for extended work trips and those who are shut in and cannot get out to vote for health reasons.

Alabama can enjoy all the benefits of early voting with little expense to the taxpayers.

The early voting bill that House Democrats have offered this year would allow voters to cast their ballots at their local county courthouses during normal business hours on weekdays, and during limited hours on the weekend, during the week before Election Day. Volunteer poll workers and courthouse employees can handle the ballots and managing the voter rolls. Ballots would be kept at the courthouse, where they would have ultimately ended up anyway.

It just doesn’t make sense to force all three million registered voters in Alabama to have to show up at a select number of locations for a limited number of hours on one day to cast their ballot.

Why should a voter only be allowed to vote between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on a Tuesday? Why should voters be forced to wait in long lines before and after work, or try to fit voting in on their lunch breaks? 

Why should someone who has to travel or work be forced to vote absentee?

Early voting is already the law in 37 other states. It’s time for Alabama to offer the same convenience to our own voters.

Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.