New Voting Law and Clerical Errors Could Put Some Voters in Prison. How?
Planning to commit a felony on September 26? Don't laugh. It could easily happen for something as simple as voting in the Republican Primary run-off. Some Alabamians are at risk of wearing an orange jumpsuit due to clerical errors and lack of effort by the state to communicate voting law changes.
In May 2017, just 3 months before a special election to fill Jeff Sessions' senate seat, Interim Governor Kay Ivey signed a law banning crossover voting in the State of Alabama. What does this mean? It means if you vote in one party's primary election, you cannot vote in the other party's primary run-off election. But voters were not sufficiently alerted about the new law or reminded at the polls what the new law would mean for their vote.
Now, Secretary of State John Merrill wants to prosecute crossover voters with a Class C Felony. That means prison and/or hefty fines but it also takes away their their right to vote in the future.
How it Happened
In an Alabama Primary process, voters must request either a Democratic or Republican ballot. In this first election after the law passed, poll workers were to designate on the voter roll which ballot the voter received. There were 12,552 voters who were not designated. Counties have been instructed to contact these voters, but if counties can't contact all 12,552 voters within in the 3 weeks they were given to notify voters of the error, then those crossover voters face prosecution in the form of a Class C felony. The voters could go to prison for a clerical error and for not being alerted to the change in voting law.
Per the Secretary of State's email to the counties:
After the election, if you determine that a voter participated in a political party’s primary election, and voted in a different party’s primary runoff election, please submit all evidence and details to the Secretary of State’s Office for prosecution. [our emphasis]
This was a major election law that was passed with minimal voter education either before the special election or at the polling places; yet there will be a zero tolerance approach for violation of the law. Even if the voter wasn't aware of the new law. Even if it was because of a clerical error on the part of the local government.
The Republican supermajority Alabama State Legislature and Republican governor put this into law under the guise of preventing one party from having undue influence over the other party's primary. That's a good thing, but we think it was also an effort on the part of Republicans to further impede voting rights.
So if you voted in the Democratic Primary on August 15, don't try to vote for either Roy Moore or Luther Strange on September 26, and warn your friends and family!