Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Darrio Melton: Alabama has an opportunity to improve the voting process

  With the Iowa caucuses yesterday and the New Hampshire primaries next week, the weight of the 2016 election season is upon us. We're less than a month away from Alabama's primary elections, in the first-ever "SEC Super Tuesday" where the Southern states will all head to the polls to cast their votes for their party's nominees. While Alabama has now moved to one of the first states to weigh in for the primaries, our election methods are still stuck in last place.

  While Alabama has a long way to go, I'm proud of Secretary of State John Merrill for working across the aisle and implementing common-sense changes like online voter registration. In a state where you can pay your taxes and renew your car tag online, the systems are clearly in place for safe and secure online voter registration. I'm glad to see that one more door has been opened to make the polls more accessible and reduce the need for bureaucratic paperwork.

  Yet this is one small step forward in a state with plenty of room for progress.

  In previous years, I have introduced legislation to allow Alabama voters to vote by mail or cast votes early, and the Democrats will continue to champion those policy changes.

  I think we can do better than a 12-hour window to cast votes on Election Day, and we can follow the lead of 29 other states who allow early voting--a multi-day period in which voters can cast ballots. This is ideal for several reasons: it cuts down on the risk of unforeseen factors like a flat tire or a sick child preventing someone from going to the polls, and it reduces the need for absentee ballots, giving everyone a chance to cast a ballot at the polls.

  We can also look towards policies like automatic voter registration to give people an "opt-out" to being placed on the voter rolls rather than having to "opt-in" two weeks before Election Day.  Just as online voter registration reduces the need for paperwork at the courthouse, automatic voter registration syncs our voter rolls with other government records, eliminating an entire step of the process. Anyone who wants to vote can head to the polls, and anyone who doesn't can fill out a form to be removed from the list.

  Lastly, we can work harder to guarantee one person gets one vote in Alabama elections. Democracy works best when voters choose their legislators rather than when legislators choose their voters, so it is an essential element of democracy to take the politicians out of the process of choosing their own employers. By creating an independent redistricting commission, an unbiased group would be responsible for drawing district lines in the way that is most fair for the people who vote, not the politicians who run.

  This election year is an ideal time to look at the ways other states are improving their voting process so that we can keep Alabama competing with the latest and greatest methods to preserve and protect our democracy.

  About the author: Representative Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus: DarrioMelton.com.

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