Em-URGE-ing Voices

Your urgent thoughts, urging action

Alabama Keeps Pushing Buttons, But We’ll Keep Pushing Back

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April 18, 2024

On Thursday, March 7th, after weeks of public hearings and a vote through the Alabama Senate, the Alabama House made a final vote passing SB1 a.k.a. the “anti-absentee voters bill.” This bill makes it a felony to assist with “distributing, ordering, requesting, collecting, prefilling, completing, obtaining, or delivering” an absentee ballot for anyone apart from the absentee voter. Worse yet, the bill makes it a Class B felony to accept “gifts or payments” for assisting absentee voters. Do you know what else are considered Class B felonies in Alabama? Violent crimes such as statutory rape and first degree manslaughter. Yes, you read that correctly. SB 1 seeks to not only criminalize assistance with absentee voting, but it will place it in the same category as rape and murder. In other words, SB1 equates the affirmation of bodily autonomy (voting rights) with blatant violations of bodily autonomy (rape and manslaughter). 

This very bill now awaits Governor Kay Ivey’s signature and once signed, it is effective immediately. SB1 will detrimentally affect voting access for many Alabamians, including disabled people, seniors, college students and faculty, incarcerated Alabamians and community members who simply want to expand voting access for their neighbors, which includes Get Out the Vote volunteers. Although the sponsor of the bill, Senator Garlan Gugner, insists that this bill simply ensures “ballot security in future elections,” this is obviously yet another tactic for voter disenfranchisement and suppression in the state. 

This issue hits me on a very personal level, because I became of voting age right when I first started noticing how my existence is politicized. During my last years at boarding school leading into college, the murders of Michael Brown and Alton Sterling made me aware of how criminalized and demonized I am as a Black person in the United States. I became more aware of my transgender identity around the same time the first anti-trans bathroom bills were introduced and the Pulse nightclub shooting occurred. As I became more cognizant of how US history, US lawmakers, and my immediate cultural surroundings deeply oppose my Blackness and my queerness, I became more passionate about exercising my right to vote in support of lawmakers who have the best interests of Black and LGBTQIA+ communities in mind. Absentee voting helped me take all my newly-discovered anger at systemic oppression and channel it into tangible action, even when I was in college eighteen hours away from my hometown’s polling location. 

With this bill, I think about the rising generation of Alabama voters who look forward to the November elections as a chance to turn anger into action, and I become enraged at the legal challenges their support systems may face for helping them, or the apprehension they might have from voting at all. I think of the reproductive justice wins we’ve seen in this country because people exercised their right to vote, including Ohio’s “yes” vote to Issue 1 last year (The Right to Reproductive Health and Freedom). Voting is a powerful tool for advancing policies that will improve the lives of everyone in their state, and every avenue to make voting accessible needs to stay available so we can continue to see positive changes. Instead, SB1, and the lawmakers who approve of it seek to criminalize anyone who makes absentee voting more accessible, and equal. SB1 is a shameless attack on Alabamians’ rights to build towards a more diverse and equitable state. It aims to tell marginalized people that the state does not value our voices, nor does the state care about the consequences we’ll face with harmful bills and harmful lawmakers in place.
While I hold a deep, unshakable rage with my state leadership’s priorities, I am also awe-inspired by how activists, organizations, and community members across Alabama showed up in opposition to SB1. Each time the bill had a public hearing, the rooms were packed with people showing up for voting access. Black people, folks in rural areas, those affected by the IVF ruling from the AL Supreme Court, and queer and trans people have packed the state house at every convening to show our state legislators that they will not get away with legalizing bigotry. Organizers and community members alike know what’s at stake if this bill is signed into law. We know this will feed into our state’s longtime investment in voter suppression and imprisonment, and our chances of arrest would increase significantly if signed. But we also know that we are not at the end of this fight, nowhere near it. We are still halfway through this year’s legislative session; there are still more bad bills we need to kill and the fight for a better Alabama doesn’t end after the session. As long as the people here believe in a better Alabama, we will always dare to defend our rights.