Time for state to adopt early voting

Published 10:33 pm Tuesday, March 8, 2016


Last week, voters across Alabama went to the polls to cast their ballots and make their voices heard. In November, we will do it all over again.

More than 3 million people are registered to vote in Alabama, and in the last presidential election, 73 percent of those people actually turned out to vote. This November, turnout could be even higher.

Elections are at the heart of our democracy; the right to vote is one of our most cherished values. But for many Alabamians, finding the time to vote can be an inconvenience.

Between dropping kids off at school or taking them to after school events, putting in a full day’s work (often working more than one job or a job that requires more than just 8 hours a day) and taking care of their other responsibilities, it’s hard for a lot of Americans to find time to go vote.

That’s why 37 states have adopted early voting.

Early voting simply allows people to cast their ballots prior to Election Day. Some states allow people to vote by mail, while others allow them to vote at designated early voting polling places. But either way, the idea is to better accommodate voters’ busy schedules.

Early voting is not a partisan political issue. Conservative states have embraced it, as have liberal and swing states. Only 13 states, including Alabama, do not currently allow early voting. But now is the time for Alabama to change that.

By allowing early voting, we would make voting easier for busy Alabamians trying to juggle voting in with the rest of their day.

Early voting has been extremely popular in other states, and can lead to higher voter turnout. In Texas, where they began early voting more than 30 years ago, some counties have seen more than 60 percent of votes cast before Election Day.

The convenience of being able to vote on a weekend or an earlier day can increase turnout. Voters who can’t vote during the designated Election Day can vote on a weekend, or on a different day when they are off work or have a looser schedule.

Utilizing early voting can help prevent voter fraud by reducing the amount of absentee ballot voting. Absentee ballots are meant as a way for voters who are traveling, have work obligations or are deployed with the military to be able to cast their votes when they cannot vote in person on Election Day. Over the years, the system has been abused, and is now the most common way that voter fraud occurs.

Alabama can enjoy all the benefits of early voting with little expense to the taxpayers.

The early voting bill that House Democrats have offered this year would allow voters to cast their ballots at their local county courthouses during normal business hours on weekdays, and during limited hours on the weekend, during the week before Election Day. Volunteer poll workers and courthouse employees can handle the ballots and managing the voter rolls. Ballots would be kept at the courthouse where they would have ultimately ended up anyway.

Early voting is already the law in 37 other states. It’s time for Alabama to offer the same convenience to our own voters.

Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House.

of Representatives.