Alabama Arise resources for the 2022 runoff election

The 2022 runoff election is Tuesday, June 21. Alabamians will vote on Democratic and Republican nominees for a range of local, state and federal offices, including the Democratic nominee for governor and the Republican nominee for a U.S. Senate seat. Voters in some districts also will decide on nominees for the state Legislature.

Have you made a plan to vote? Alabama Arise has information below about how to vote in person Tuesday.

Here’s what you need to know for Election Day:

  • Check your registration and find your polling place here.
  • Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. If you’re a registered voter in line by 7 p.m., stay in line! You’ll be allowed to vote.
  • A valid photo ID is required to vote.
  • Find your sample ballot here (by county).
  • Alabamians can vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary, but not both.
  • State law forbids “crossover voting” in runoff elections. People who voted in the Democratic primary will be able to vote only in the Democratic runoff. People who voted in the Republican primary will be able to vote only in the Republican runoff. Voters who participated in neither party’s primary can choose to vote in either party’s runoff.
  • The crossover voting rule does not apply to the general election in November. Voters may vote for whomever they wish in the general election.
  • Voters’ party choice for this year’s primary or runoff election does not bind them for future years.
  • You can find more information and resources on the Alabama Secretary of State’s website.

If you face any intimidation, threats or other barriers to voting, trained volunteers are ready to help:

  • English: 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683)
  • Spanish: 888-VE-Y-VOTA (888-839-8682)
  • Asian languages: 888-API-VOTE (888-274-8683)
  • Arabic: 844-YALLA-US (844-925-5287)

Join us for Town Hall Tuesdays!

Listening is key to shaping and advancing public policies that matter most to those marginalized by bad policies. Alabama Arise depends on what we hear to help guide our work toward our vision of a better Alabama for all.

Our online Town Hall Tuesdays will return once again this year. These events are a chance to hear issue updates and share your vision for our 2023 priorities.

Please join us this summer to help identify emerging issues and inform our actions. Registration is required for any or all of the sessions. You can register at the link in each session below.

July 12th, 6 p.m.Making the vision a reality: Food & health

Everyone should have access to food and the health care they need to live a long and healthy life. Join this session to discuss issue and advocacy opportunities in areas of access to food and health care. Click here to register for this session.

July 26th, 6 p.m. Making the vision a reality: Democracy & justice

We envision a state where all government leaders are responsive, inclusive and justice-serving. Voting rights barriers and an unjust justice system have hindered our vision. But together, we can move forward. Join us to discuss how to improve voting access and advance criminal justice reforms. Click here to register for this session.

August 9th, 6 p.m. Making the vision a reality: The path forward

Arise’s vision for Alabama can be realized because of our commitment and perseverance. We are committed to issues that matter to those marginalized by poverty, and we persevere in raising our voices together for change. Join this session to discuss issues already identified and to raise others. Click here to register for this session.

 

 

Highs and lows: Alabama Arise’s look back at the 2022 regular session

The Alabama Legislature’s 2022 regular session adjourned sine die late on Thursday, April 7. Lawmakers capped off the session’s last week with intense debates and late nights, with the final gavel dropping just before midnight.

Alabama Arise is grateful for the many positive outcomes that came out of the State House this year. We also were glad to play a role in stopping several misguided pieces of legislation from becoming law. These wins wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Arise’s determined members and various coalition partners.

We were not able to get every good bill across the finish line or stop every harmful legislative effort from happening. But Arise saw real progress on several important issue priorities this year. Keep reading below for recaps on some of the key bills we supported or opposed in 2022. Then visit our Bills of Interest page for updates on all of the legislation we tracked.

Adequate state budgets

Alabama’s fiscal year 2023 General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets are both the largest in state history. The General Fund budget of $2.7 billion includes a provision to extend Medicaid postpartum coverage from 60 days to 12 months, which will help reduce maternal mortality and improve health outcomes for more than 30,000 women. Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, has been a longtime legislative champion for postpartum Medicaid extension.

The Education Trust Fund budget of $8.2 billion will provide a major boost in teacher pay. The increases will range from 4% all the way to 21% depending on seniority.

SB 140, sponsored by Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, did not pass this session. The bill would have allowed the diversion of hundreds of millions of dollars from public schools to private schools. Arise opposed this effort.

SB 261, sponsored by Sen. Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook, passed out of both chambers. This bill will increase the income tax credit filers can claim for contributions to scholarship granting organizations for private schools. Arise opposed this effort.

Tax reform

HB 163 and SB 19, sponsored by Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, and Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, passed out of both chambers. This legislation will increase the standard deduction and dependent exemption. That change will provide a small but significant income tax cut for low- and moderate-income Alabamians. Arise supported this effort.

SB 43, sponsored by Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre, did not pass this session. The bill would have repealed the state’s 4% grocery tax and capped the state deduction for federal income taxes. Despite strong bipartisan leadership from Jones and Rep. Penni McClammy, D-Montgomery, the bill did not come up for committee consideration. Arise supported this effort.

Photo of Arise members rallying against the state grocery tax inside the State House
Alabama Arise members gathered for an Untax Groceries Rally at the State House in Montgomery on March 15, 2022. Bills to end the state grocery tax did not move in the Legislature this year, but the effort continues to enjoy growing bipartisan support.

Voting rights

HB 53 and SB 6, sponsored by Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, and Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, passed the Senate but did not advance to the House floor. This bill would have eliminated application requirements for voting rights restoration. It also would have restored the right to vote for many indigent individuals. Arise supported this effort.

HB 63, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Wood, R-Valley, did not pass this session. The bill would have criminalized the prefilling of any voter application or absentee ballot application. Arise opposed this effort.

Hall’s HB 167 failed to pass this session. This legislation would allow inmate identification cards to be used as valid ID for voting. Arise supported this effort.

HB 194, introduced by Rep. Wes Allen, R-Troy, passed out of both chambers. The bill will prohibit state and local election officials from soliciting, accepting or using donations for election-related expenses. Arise opposed this effort.

Criminal justice reform

HB 52, sponsored by Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, passed out of both chambers. This bill will allow judges to use discretion in the length of someone’s sentence if their probation is revoked. Arise supported this effort.

HB 95, sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika, passed out of both chambers. The bill will create a 180-day grace period for people to repay court-imposed fines and fees following release from incarceration. Arise supported this effort.

SB 203, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, passed out of both chambers. This bill will require the Administrative Office of Courts to establish a database of municipal fines and fees. Arise supported this effort.

HB 230, sponsored by Rep. Rolanda Hollis, D-Birmingham, passed out of both chambers. This bill will ban the routine shackling of incarcerated individuals during pregnancy, delivery and immediate postpartum time. Arise supported this effort.

HB 200 and SB 117, sponsored by Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, and Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Montgomery, failed to pass this session. The bill would have ended driver’s license suspensions for failure to pay fines and fees. Arise supported this effort.

SB 220, sponsored by Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, failed to pass this session. The bill would have required that time served awaiting a hearing for parole violation be applied retroactively. Arise supported this effort.

HB 2, sponsored by Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, did not pass this session. This anti-protest bill would have created minimum holding periods for people accused of the crimes of rioting or interfering with traffic. It also would have penalized certain local jurisdictions that reduce funding for law enforcement. Arise opposed this effort.

Hill’s HB 55 failed to pass this session. The bill would have required every judicial circuit to establish a community corrections program. Arise supported this effort.

Unemployment insurance benefits

SB 224, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, passed out of both chambers. This bill will impose additional job search requirements as a condition of eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits. Specifically, individuals will have to show a “reasonable and active effort” to find work by providing proof every week that they have contacted at least three prospective employers. Unless a new job notice has been posted, a job seeker cannot apply for or seek work at an employer where they already made contact. Arise opposed this effort.

Food security

SB 156, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, did not pass this session. The bill would have required both custodial and non-custodial parents to cooperate with child support enforcement to qualify for SNAP food assistance. Arise opposed this effort.

‘Divisive concepts’

HB 312 and SB 292, sponsored by Rep. Ed Oliver, R-Dadeville, and Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Montgomery, did not pass this session. The bill would have prohibited the teaching of “divisive concepts” related to race, religion and sex in public K-12 schools, colleges, universities and certain state training programs. Arise opposed this effort.

Arise legislative recap: Jan. 31, 2022

Meet Rebecca Howard, Arise’s new policy and advocacy director! Rebecca introduces herself to our members before discussing the latest news on ARPA funding in Alabama and our thoughts on the recent federal court decision on the state’s congressional maps.

Expand voting rights to move Alabama beyond its anti-democratic past

Voting rights are a flashpoint in Alabama’s history. The long denial of those rights to Black residents led to Bloody Sunday in Selma, the march to Montgomery and eventually passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In the decades since, our state has taken a few steps that increase voting access for communities of color. Still, Alabama’s voting systems remain unnecessarily cumbersome, expensive and exclusionary.

Alabamians seeking to exercise their fundamental right to vote often face numerous administrative hurdles and physical and procedural barriers. Recent legislative sessions have included repeated attempts to make voting more inconvenient for Alabamians and more burdensome for election officials.

Recent policy changes have made voting harder

Efforts to restrict voting have gained traction since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned parts of the Voting Rights Act in its 2010 Shelby County v. Holder ruling. And some of those more recent efforts in Alabama unfortunately have succeeded.

For instance, the 2021 regular session saw lawmakers ban curbside voting, a practice that Mississippi expanded in 2020. Curbside voting would have increased polling place access for older and pregnant Alabamians, as well as people with disabilities. Echoing the state’s long past of racist voting policy, the curbside voting ban finally passed after a procedural vote to cut off debate and silence a filibuster by Black senators.

Legislative attempts to make it harder for Alabamians to have their voices heard haven’t stopped there. Some lawmakers also have sought to remove election officials’ ability to provide extended hours or accommodations during declared emergencies. This measure would be particularly shortsighted in Alabama, where tornado outbreaks are routine during the primary election season in the spring and hurricanes remain a persistent threat during the general election season in the fall.

Pro-democracy policies would build a better Alabama

Ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard is an essential part of building a better, more inclusive Alabama. Lawmakers can and should make numerous policy improvements to boost civic engagement and strengthen democracy in Alabama:

  • Register voters automatically through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Automatic voter registration (AVR) would increase turnout considerably. Twenty states (including Georgia) and the District of Columbia have approved AVR since 2015, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
  • Remove the racist modern poll tax that requires repayment of fines and fees for people with a criminal conviction to regain voting rights. This disenfranchisement has its roots in post-Reconstruction efforts to sidestep the U.S. Constitution’s ban on explicitly race-based voting restrictions. And this practice continues to harm Black people at a far higher rate than the overall population.
  • Allow extended early voting for voters who can’t make it to the polls on Election Day.
  • Create a same-day voter registration process so voters who show up to the polls aren’t excluded from casting ballots.
  • Enable curbside voting to increase accessibility for voters who have mobility or health concerns.
  • Eliminate the burdensome photo ID requirement for voters to cast ballots.
  • Allow absentee voting without requiring voters to provide an excuse from a state-approved list.

Bottom line

Our democracy is strongest when everyone can participate. But Alabama has made that harder by erecting barriers that limit voting for many seniors, people with low incomes, people with disabilities and people who were formerly incarcerated. By enacting policies to protect and expand voting rights, lawmakers can move Alabama away from a shameful past and toward a brighter future where all voices are valued and included.

Alabama Arise unveils members’ 2022 roadmap for change

Sentencing reform and voting rights expansion are two key goals on Alabama Arise’s 2022 legislative agenda. Members voted for Arise’s issue priorities this week after nearly 300 people attended the organization’s online annual meeting Saturday. The seven issues chosen were:

  • Tax reform, including untaxing groceries and ending the state’s upside-down deduction for federal income taxes, which overwhelmingly benefits rich households.
  • Adequate budgets for human services like education, health care and child care, including Medicaid expansion to make health coverage affordable for all Alabamians.
  • Voting rights, including automatic universal voter registration and removal of barriers to voting rights restoration for disenfranchised Alabamians.
  • Criminal justice reform, including retroactive application of state sentencing guidelines and repeal of the Habitual Felony Offender Act.
  • Death penalty reform, including a law to require juries to be unanimous in any decision to impose a death sentence.
  • Payday and title lending reform to protect consumers from getting trapped in debt.
  • Public transportation to help Alabamians with low incomes stay connected to work, school, health care and their communities.

“Arise believes in dignity, equity and justice for all Alabamians,” Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden said. “Our 2022 issue priorities would break down many of the policy barriers that keep people in poverty. We must build a more inclusive future for our state. And together, we will.”

Graphic listing Alabama Arise's 2022 issue priorities

The urgent need for criminal justice reform

Alabama’s criminal justice system is broken, and its prisons are violent and dangerously overcrowded. Exorbitant court fines and fees impose heavy burdens on thousands of families every year, taking a disproportionate toll on communities of color and families who already struggle to make ends meet. And Alabama needs investments in mental health care, substance use disorder treatment, community corrections and diversion programs to help stem the tide of mass incarceration.

Lawmakers’ plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on new prisons is not an adequate solution to these problems. Alabama must enact meaningful sentencing and reentry reforms to make its corrections system more humane and effective. Legislators took a good first step during this week’s special session by passing a bill by Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, to provide supervised release for everyone leaving prison in Alabama.

Many other needed changes still remain on the Legislature’s plate, however. One important priority is Hill’s proposal to allow judges to apply Alabama’s new sentencing guidelines retroactively. The House declined to vote on that bill this week, but Hill has promised to file it again in 2022. Hundreds of people would be eligible to apply for a reduced sentence if the measure passes.

Arise also will continue to work toward repeal of the Habitual Felony Offender Act (HFOA), the state’s “three-strikes” law. The HFOA is a driver of sentencing disparities and prison overcrowding in Alabama. The law lengthens sentences for a felony conviction after a prior felony conviction, even when the prior offense was nonviolent. Hundreds of people in Alabama are serving life sentences for non-homicide crimes because of the HFOA. Thousands more have had their sentences increased as a result. Repealing the law would reduce prison overcrowding and end some of Alabama’s most abusive sentencing practices.

Protect and expand voting rights so every voice is heard

Arise members provided a resounding endorsement of efforts to protect and expand voting rights in Alabama. This includes support of federal legislation to prevent voter suppression and strengthen the Voting Rights Act. And it includes calls for numerous state-level improvements to promote greater civic engagement and increase access to voting.

One such improvement would be automatic voter registration (AVR) across Alabama. AVR would use information the state already has to register or update registrations electronically for hundreds of thousands of Alabamians. Another important step would be to ensure people who struggle to make ends meet are not denied the right to vote simply because they cannot afford court fines and fees.

“Our ability to progress as a state will be limited as long as any person or group is unable to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” Hyden said. “We urge Alabama lawmakers to protect and expand voting rights by instituting automatic voter registration and lifting barriers to voting rights restoration.”

Alabama Arise keeps listening. Here’s what we heard in 2021!

Listening is a core value of Alabama Arise. We deeply value the input we get from our members, our allies and most importantly, those directly affected by the work we do together. We depend on what we hear to help guide our issue work and our strategies.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continued to challenge us to be creative in finding ways to listen. We did another series of three statewide online Town Hall Tuesdays. This year, we also held 12 individual group listening sessions for a total of 15 listening sessions in all.

What we heard this summer

The town halls happened every two weeks, starting June 15 and ending July 13. The individual meetings took place throughout the summer. Here is some of what we heard in those town halls and in the individual group sessions:

Health care, voting, criminal justice
    • In addition to strong support for Medicaid expansion, we heard several people express the need to address hospital costs, the lack of adequate equitable access to health services and significant concern for prescription drug prices (for seniors in particular). Many people highlighted the need for mental health reforms, and several pointed out the mental health connection to issues of homelessness.
    • We heard concerns about ongoing, intentional barriers to voting. Many raised the need to improve voter access by making it easier, not more difficult, for people to vote. They said we need reforms like automatic voter registration, no-excuse and simplified absentee voting, a better process for restoring voting rights of people who were formerly incarcerated, an Election Day holiday and curbside voting. Issues about term limits for legislators and rank choice voting also were raised. While related to voting, but distinct, redistricting was also a concern.
    • People voiced passionate support for many criminal justice reforms. Several highlighted a desire to abolish the Habitual Felony Offender Act and the death penalty. They also raised their voices for reforms around juvenile justice, gun violence, community sentencing options and programs to build social and job skills of people who were formerly incarcerated. There was much discussion about the need for prison reform beyond just building new prisons. Some participants also mentioned police reforms, specifically people advocating for public access to police body cam footage.
Housing, education, child care, transportation, language barriers
  • We heard much discussion about the need for quality affordable housing, living wages and adequate funding of public education, including early childhood education and child care. Many also emphasized the connections between most of the issues of concern. Deficits in one area lead to insufficiency in many others.
  • We also heard concern about the need to improve public transportation in the state. Many were interested in environmentally friendly public transportation solutions and securing a funding source for the Public Transportation Trust Fund created a few years ago.
  • Among our Spanish-speaking members, many noted concerns with access to health care. These included eligibility concerns and disparities with information shared regarding documents and verification needed to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. They also requested a statewide Spanish-language hotline for addressing day-to-day inquiries surrounding public service benefits.

Notes from each town hall

For details about what we heard in the town hall series, click here to read breakout session notes from each of the 2021 Town Hall Tuesday events. Those sessions were as follows:

June 15 ‒ A better Alabama for all: Participants discussed the question: If you could wave a magic wand and fix one issue that addresses poverty in Alabama, what would that issue be?

June 29 ‒ Health care for all: Participants discussed ways to close the health coverage gap by expanding Medicaid in Alabama.

July 13 ‒ Justice for all: Participants discussed their priorities for improving access to voting and reforming our criminal justice system.

Stay in touch with Arise

We didn’t stop listening because the town halls ended. We want to hear from you, and we encourage you to contact the Arise organizer in your area:

We hope to see you at Arise’s online annual meeting Sept. 25!

Special session(s) ahead in Alabama? How Arise is preparing

Alabama Arise’s work for equity, justice and opportunity persisted after the Legislature’s regular session ended. We’ll renew our commitment to those principles when Arise members choose 2022 issue priorities after the Sept. 25 annual meeting. And we’ll keep up the drumbeat when lawmakers return later this year for one or more expected special sessions.

Alabama’s overcrowded and antiquated corrections system – a decades-long humanitarian crisis – may prompt a special session this fall. Gov. Kay Ivey and many legislators hope to build and renovate multiple prisons. Alabama may seek federal permission to use COVID-19 relief money for those purposes.

Arise believes meaningful sentencing reforms should accompany any plan for new prisons. Repeal of the outdated Habitual Felony Offender Act would be one long-term step to reduce overcrowding. Parole reform and stronger investments in community corrections and reentry supports would help as well. Arise will advocate for these policy changes and others during any prison-related special session.

Redistricting is another likely focus of a special session. Legislators will use new Census data to draw new districts for the Legislature, state school board and U.S. House. Arise urges members to participate in public hearings that the Joint Reapportionment Committee will hold across Alabama this month. Click here for more information and a full hearing schedule.

Arise will continue advocacy on federal funds, too. We’ll support efforts to make recent Child Tax Credit improvements permanent. We’ll urge legislators to use federal relief money for Medicaid expansion, public transportation and other long-term investments. And we’ll seek to build on an August federal rule change that permanently boosted Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

Redistricting in Alabama: How you can speak out

Alabama legislators likely will return to Montgomery for a special session on redistricting later this year. Before then, the Joint Reapportionment Committee will hold a series of public hearings across the state beginning Sept. 1. These events are an opportunity for Alabamians to share their thoughts and concerns about the redistricting process.

Alabama Arise urges members to participate in the Legislature’s public hearings on redistricting. In-person and remote attendance options are available. Check out this hearing schedule from the Alabama News Network to find an event in your area. (Note: The link opens as a PDF.)

Every decade, Alabama lawmakers draw new districts for the Legislature, state school board and U.S. House. This redistricting, based on the latest Census data, is designed to adjust for population changes in the previous 10 years.

For more information on the public hearings, contact the Joint Reapportionment Committee at 334-261-0706 or . And for more information and resources on redistricting, check out this overview from the Alabama Election Protection Network.

Voting rights reforms face uphill climb, anti-democratic political sentiments

All Alabamians should be able to exercise the right to vote without facing suppression, administrative hurdles, or manipulation by elected officials. But the infrastructure of democracy in Alabama falls short of that standard. Efforts to protect and expand voting rights for Alabamians in the past session took place amid a national atmosphere of outlandish conspiracy theories and outright lies about election security. Some states have used these lies to pass bills restricting voting rights.

For example, Georgia passed a broad voter suppression bill this year that shortens time frames for absentee ballot applications, allows state-level election officials to remove local officials, and criminalizes giving food or water to voters while they wait in line.

And like voters in neighboring states, Alabamians faced varied voter suppression attempts. For example, bills to restrict voter assistance in filling out ballots (HB 575, by Rep. Mike Holmes), prevent response by elected officials to emergency election concerns (HB 399, Rep. Wes Allen), and forbid payment to voter outreach organizations based on the number of voters who vote (HB 70, Rep. Jamie Kiel) were all introduced this session.

Alternative methods of voting attacked

Additionally, the Legislature delayed and killed multiple bills that would have increased access to voting for eligible Alabamians. Rep. Laura Hall’s HB 396 would have allowed voters to cast absentee ballots without providing an excuse from a list of state-approved reasons for absentee voting.

Early in the session, Hall had bipartisan support for this bill. Secretary of State John Merrill sent a staffer to the public hearing on HB 396 in the House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections (CC&E) Committee meeting to speak in favor of the bill. But partisan opposition arose in the committee during that hearing and soon after on talk radio. By the next week, Merrill had abandoned the bill and distanced himself from his longstanding if quiet support of no-cause absentee voting.

The right to vote received this same unabashed political consideration in other bills as well. Rep. Wes Allen introduced a bill to prohibit mail-in voting and prevent the secretary of state from responding to disasters by issuing emergency election rules. If that bill had been in effect during the 2020 election, Alabamians could not have voted an absentee ballot to avoid a crowded gathering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But HB 399 wasn’t the only bill to pander to the false claim that the 2020 election was somehow insecure or flawed. Other bills also sought to restrict executive branch officials from responding to emergencies that affect elections, and those bills also failed to become law. Rep. Arnold Mooney’s HB 638 would have prevented local officials from extending voting hours in response to emergencies.

Both sides saw voting rights issues essentially reach a stalemate

While Arise advocates and our partners stopped many of the worst bills, positive reforms faced severe opposition across the board. Bills to allow early voting, same-day voter registration, and automatic voter registration through DMV record updates didn’t advance at all. In fact, most reform bills were never even placed on the calendar in the House CC&E Committee.

One reform bill did make significant headway, though. SB 118, by Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, would have streamlined the process for people returning from prison to regain their right to vote. This bill also would have removed the requirement to pay fines and fees to regain the right to vote. That requirement is effectively a poll tax and prevents many Alabamians from full participation in civic life.

But in order to advance the bill through the Senate, the anti-poll tax provision was stripped out after it became clear that the bill would not pass without removing it. And even after the Senate passed SB 118, the House CC&E Committee failed to advance it further.

Through nearly the entire session, the voting rights issue remained fairly stalemated. Voting rights advocates found their bills slowed and killed by legislators hostile to expanding voter access, and voting rights opponents found their bills stalled because of ardent public opposition to new restrictions.

Legislature forces through anti-democratic, racist bill at end of session

Unfortunately, on the last night of the session, SB 235 / HB 285, sponsored by Sen. Dan Roberts and Rep. Wes Allen, respectively, passed the Senate, the final step it needed for legislative passage. This bill prohibits curbside voting, even though no jurisdictions offered curbside voting in the 2020 election cycle.

This bill directly furthers the false conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election. The 2020 Alabama general election saw no accusations of systemic problems for voters, no accusations of election fraud, and no curbside voting available for the public. And during the initial Senate debate on SB 235, even senators who ended up voting for it admitted it was unnecessary because curbside voting was unavailable, because the recent election was secure, and because the Secretary of State’s office prohibited the practice by rule already.

Further, SB 235’s passage will almost inevitably get the state sued, and the state should lose the lawsuit. In passing this bill, the Legislature has inscribed in the state code that Alabama refuses to grant accommodations to voters with disabilities, older voters, and pregnant voters.

While polling places are required to be accessible to voters with disabilities, too many Alabama polling places fail to meet that legal obligation. Allowing election officials to meet those voters at the curb is a way to meet the needs of voters who can’t access their designated polling place on election day. Sen. Bobby Singleton introduced SB 377 to remedy this looming legal problem, but this bill was voted down in committee 1-8 along straight party lines.

SB 235 faced a filibuster when it was placed on the calendar on the session’s last day. In the state’s long tradition of hostility to voting rights for all Alabamians, SB 235 fits the pattern of wealthy, influential areas oppressing voters with less power. SB 235’s purpose is to prevent local jurisdictions populated and run by Black Alabamians from making voting more accessible to their citizens. After Black senators opposing the bill repeatedly pointed out this bill is born from hostility to voting rights and furthers inequity, the Senate voted 25-6, again on a straight party line, to silence debate on the bill and force a vote.

The feds aren’t coming to save the state from itself, so where do we go from here?

At the federal level, the House passed HR 1, the For the People Act, an omnibus voting rights bill that contains many of the provisions Arise has supported at the state level. Among them, HR 1 would force states to implement automatic voter registration, no-cause absentee voting, and early voting for federal elections.

This bill would also return Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required some states, including Alabama, to submit proposed changes to election procedures to the U.S. attorney general. Section 5’s preclearance provision was held unconstitutional in Shelby County v. Holder, and since that ruling, the Alabama Legislature has faced dozens of attempts to make voting more cumbersome, inconvenient, and difficult.

HR 1 has passed the House, but it faces stiff opposition in the Senate. The archaic, elitist rules of the U.S. Senate – combined with some Republican senators’ desire to fend off conservative challengers in next year’s primary and some conservative Democrats’ refusal to change filibuster rules – mean the For the People Act is unlikely to pass that chamber.

But federal dysfunction on top of political manipulation at the state level doesn’t mean progress is impossible. Alabama’s status outside the group of battleground states means that the policy arguments Arise has been making in favor of increasing democratic participation may be evaluated less on a political basis than how they improve access to democracy for all people. Automatic voter registration will still save the state money. No-cause absentee voting will still distribute the administrative workload for election officials more broadly, enabling efficiency increases.

Policies created to maintain Alabama’s longstanding racist social and economic structure can be overcome with sufficient public pressure. And in fact, that public pressure is what killed most of the bad bills facing the people of Alabama this year. The Legislature did not prevent the governor from responding to emergencies. Local election officials did not have their ability to extend hours curtailed when facing disasters.

These significant defensive victories happened because legislators heard from Alabamians who do not believe the right to vote should be a political football. The next major undertaking will be moving from defensive victories to bold steps forward that free Alabamians from the chains of the state government’s past hostility to equitable voting rights. The racially divided, partisan and nakedly political passage of SB 235/HB 285 shows we have a steep hill to climb. But transformational victories will come as advocates build power and push legislators toward a just Alabama that welcomes full democratic participation.