Voting Coalition opposes HB-194

Published 6:20 pm Friday, March 18, 2022

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The Alabama Voting Rights Coalition in partnership with Alabama Values Progress held a public briefing, Tuesday, March 15, explaining its opposition to HB 194 and the importance of the voter education and voter registration programs the group’s members work on in Alabama’s communities.

The Alabama Voting Rights Coalition is composed of Alabama Forward, Alabama Values Progress, ACLU Alabama, Campaign Legal Center, Faith in Action Alabama, Greater Birmingham Ministries (GBM),  I Vote Madison,  Kenny Sharpton-Glasgow Ministries International, League of Women Voters Alabama, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Restorative Strategies LLC, Rollin to the Polls, SPLC Action Fund, The Ordinary People Society, and The United Women of Color. The coalition’s mission is to build collective power to advance voting rights in Alabama through education, outreach, collaboration, and advocacy. 

Speakers at the virtual event were Kathy Jones, president of the League of Women Voters of Alabama; Evan Milligan, executive director of Alabama Forward; Rodreshia Russaw, executive director of TOPS and Sam Robson, an Andrew Goodman Ambassador for Vote Everywhere at the University of Alabama. The event moderator was Anneshia Hardy, executive director of Alabama Values Progress.

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The bill, sponsored by Rep. Wes Allen, R- Troy, was passed Thursday, March 10, by the Alabama House of Representatives 72-28 along party lines.

HB 194 would make it illegal for grassroots organizations to collaborate with local elections officials to educate and help voters get out the vote. This means that churches, nonprofits and other civic organizations would be prohibited from filling the gaps and helping Alabamians have the resources to get out the vote. Any person who violates this law could be charged with a Class B misdemeanor offense. In Alabama, Class B misdemeanor convictions can result in jail sentences of up to six months and fines of up to $3,000.

At Tuesday’s briefing, event-goers learned why the Alabama Voting Rights Coalition opposes the legislation. The four speakers were community leaders who are involved with voter education and voter registration drives.

Milligan was the first to speak at the meeting who said that HB 194 is an example of limiting civic organizations’ ability to fill in the gaps that local election centers have due to underfunding of democratic institutions.

“This bill would drive a wedge in between groups that want to pick up some of that slack and fill in that gap and then it would drive a wedge between those groups and community members that might really appreciate those resources,” Milligan said. “I would urge everyone to think about that this is a pattern right now of bills that are really undermining what our democracy and democratic institutions actually exist to do. We saw this with our electoral maps that were voted out of the legislature and signed into law by the governor. We see that as an example in the response to critical race theory. We see that as an example with the things that are happening in response to reproductive rights. We see legislators really taking it upon themselves to define norms that have historically been defined by professional associations or already resolved in courts.”

Milligan said this is particularly concerning because Alabama is becoming increasingly multicultural with an increasing ethnic minority population.

“Right as we are entering an era where we could be expanding participation, we are seeing our legislature move in a direction contracting and limiting space,” he said. “We are concerned with how that is racialized.”

Jones spoke next and said the coalition has been looking at the bills that relate to voting rights.

She said that Allen says he is only trying to limit money, but the bill talks about personal services.

Jones spoke about members of the coalition going out and registering voters. They also help citizens work their ways through the voting rights restoration process. She said they have seen several issues with boards of registrars not processing voting applications for those who have earned their right to vote back.

Jones said they worked to understand what the voter ID law was and explained to Alabamians which IDs were acceptable. They have provided postage for those who needed it for absentee ballots.

“This is not just about money. It is not just about Zukerbucks,” she said. “This is about an attack on the ability of people who are trying to provide services to the citizens of Alabama.”

Jones said she has spoken to Secretary of State John Merrill who said his office is opposed to the bill.

“This bill does not represent what democracy should be in Alabama,” she said.

Jones said if Allen would delete the personal services verbiage out of his bill it would do what he said his intent of the bill is.

“This is a bad bill, and it’s going to cause harm,” she said. “It either needs to go away or it needs to be fixed.”

Russaw said she had a chance to link up and speak to other organizations about the bill and discussed how it would affect those on the ground and formerly incarcerated individuals.

“I’m here to express the harm that is going to be done,” she said. We are seeing voter intimidation everywhere. We have to look at all the factors that are leading up to the 2022 elections, but we did not think Alabama would be hit with this kind of bill.”

Russaw said there needs to be some clarification in the bill.

During the briefing, Hardy mentioned comments made by Rep. Allen in the Troy Messenger accusing the Alabama Voting Rights Coalition and other grassroots organizations of creating false narratives about the bill. In the article Allen stated that “HB 194 does not, in any way, make it illegal for grassroots organizations to collaborate with local elections officials to educate and help voters ‘get out the vote.”

Hardy noted a contradiction in Allen’s statement in the Messenger and his statements to WSFA on March 8, where he stated that “as far as partnering with a local elected official who is responsible for the conduct of an election, they wouldn’t be able to do that, but they can go just to the general public.”

“The goal of the public briefing was to frame the issue with HB 194 through a practical lens of community advocates, organizers who conduct voter education outreach, and Alabamians who have been direct recipients of voter education and outreach services. It’s important to highlight the impact the bill will have on Alabamians access to adequate resources and information to get out to vote. This bill should raise concerns and opposition across party lines,” Hardy said.