Saturday, November 26, 2016

Craig Ford: Alabama needs early voting

  There’s nothing more American than going to the polls on Election Day and casting your vote. I love Election Day! But I don’t love waiting in line for hours before I get to cast my ballot.

  On November 8th, more than two million Alabamians went to the polls. And far too many of us ended up having to wait in line for two or more hours just to cast our ballots. There’s something fundamentally wrong about that!

  Voters shouldn’t be punished because they can’t go vote until they get off work. And when the weather is bad, voters shouldn’t have to wait in lines so long that they can’t even stand inside the building. Early voting would reduce the length of lines and wait times, and allow voters to vote earlier in the week if the weather is expected to be bad on Election Day.

  There are a lot of reforms that need to be made. We need to change the way we assign voters to certain lines so that some lines aren’t virtually empty while other lines are ridiculously long (this happens when they simply split the lines up every six or seven letters, so that last names that end with common letters end up in the same lines).

  Another reform we experimented with in this last election was using electronic poll books for voters in certain locations. These voters could go up and sign in immediately regardless of what letter their last name started with, so the lines were able to move much faster. That technology needs be placed in every voting precinct by the next election.

  But perhaps the biggest reform we could make would be to allow early voting.

  Right now, 34 states and Washington, D.C. allow early voting. Florida, Georgia and Tennessee all have early voting. There’s no reason for Alabama not to adopt some form of early voting legislation, too!

  That’s why I will personally sponsor in the next legislative session a bill to allow early voting, and I ask that Secretary of State John Merrill join me in pushing for this legislation. There is nothing more important or more pressing when it comes to elections and voting than passing some form of early voting legislation.

  Early voting would allow voters to work voting around their schedule instead of having to work their schedules around trying to vote. Early voting would also reduce voter fraud by reducing the need for absentee voting. Absentee voting is the biggest source of voter fraud, but if voters can vote a week or two before Election Day, they can forego absentee voting.

  Early voting would also help increase voter participation. Every election, there are reports of voters getting in line but then leaving because the lines are too long and too slow. Other voters simply can’t work voting around their work schedule and/or their kids’ schedules.

  Bad weather has also been a deterrent for some voters but could be avoided if voters could vote on a different day.

  Some opponents of early voting argue that voters may end up casting their ballots without all the information they need to make their voting decisions. But most voters have already decided how they will vote long before Election Day arrives. Even on non-partisan issues such as ballot referendums and constitutional amendments, most voters already know how they want to vote by mid-to-late October. And if they are not certain how they want to vote, they can always wait until Election Day.

  No voter should ever feel like voting is a hassle. This is America, and voting is at the heart of who we are as a nation! Early voting is an easy and desperately needed solution to the problem of long lines at the polls. Early voting can increase voter participation and decrease the amount of time voters have to spend waiting in line.

  When the Alabama Legislature returns to Montgomery in February, I will sponsor legislation to create a process for early voting in Alabama. I hope my colleagues and Secretary of State John Merrill will join me and bring some desperately needed relief to our voting process.

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

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