Arise unveils 2019 blueprint for change
Automatic voter registration joins priority list
It was a vote to urge Alabama to break down barriers to voting. Arise members approved automatic universal voter registration as a new issue priority for 2019 during the organization’s annual meeting Sept. 8 at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Montgomery. Nearly 200 members from across Alabama also reaffirmed their commitment to six other issue priorities, including the permanent issues of tax reform and adequate budgets.
Automatic voter registration (AVR) would allow Alabama to save money while registering more people to vote. AVR registers eligible citizens or updates their records electronically when they apply for a driver’s license or share information with public agencies in other routine ways. People can opt out if they do not wish to be registered.
Fifteen states, including Georgia, and the District of Columbia have approved a form of AVR, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. All but one offer AVR through the department of motor vehicles, and several provide AVR through other agencies as well. The policy increases voter registration, promotes greater voter roll accuracy, and reduces printing, mailing and personnel costs connected to processing registration forms by hand.
Members also urged Arise to seek to rein in civil asset forfeiture as part of its criminal justice reform work. This practice allows law enforcement to seize a home, car or other property from people who have not been convicted of a crime. Alabamians who cannot afford to hire a lawyer to try to recover the property are especially vulnerable.
Arise will support policies to reduce the burden that civil asset forfeiture and high court fees and fines place on many families living in poverty. Other priorities include state public transportation funding, stronger consumer protections on payday and auto title loans, and reforms to the state’s death penalty process.
Medicaid expansion will be a focus of intense Arise advocacy this year. Alabama’s failure to expand Medicaid to cover adults with low wages has trapped about 300,000 people in a coverage gap. They make too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to get subsidies for Marketplace coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Expanding Medicaid would save hundreds of lives, create thousands of jobs and pump hundreds of millions of dollars a year into the state economy. It also would help keep rural hospitals and clinics open across Alabama.
Arise will continue its long-standing campaign to untax groceries this year. Alabama is one of only three states with no sales tax break on groceries. (The others are Mississippi and South Dakota.) The grocery tax adds hundreds of dollars a year to the cost of a basic necessity of life for families. The tax also is a key driver of Alabama’s upside-down tax system, which on average forces families with low and moderate incomes to pay twice as much of what they make in state and local taxes as the richest Alabamians do.