By Mike Cason
Alabama's law on absentee voting has changed in several ways, including a new requirement to provide a copy of a photo ID when applying for an absentee ballot.
Secretary of State John Merrill outlined the changes in a press release today. They took effect Aug. 1.
Merrill said the requirement for a photo ID will help election officials verify the identity of those applying for absentee ballots.
The change was included in a bill sponsored by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, that passed with bipartisan support and without a dissenting vote.
The bill also added to the list of situations for which absentee voting is allowed -- if a voter is a caregiver for a family member and if a voter is incarcerated but not convicted of a felony that disqualifies them from voting.
The bill provided for an emergency absentee ballot for a voter caring for someone who requires emergency medical treatment or if a family member dies within five days of an election.
It allowed voters to return their absentee ballots by commercial carrier as well as by U.S. mail.
And the bill eliminated a requirement for absentee election managers to publish in the county courthouse a list of absentee voters, their addresses, and their polling places. The change protects voter privacy and keeps information from being compromised by those looking to influence elections, Merrill said.
Alabama's absentee voting law already allowed voters to cast absentee ballots if they were out of town on election day; had a physical illness or infirmity; had a work shift that conflicted with polling hours; were a student in a school outside their home county; were a military member, spouse or dependent qualified to vote absentee under federal law; or were a poll worker or poll watcher assigned to a place other than their regular voting place.
Merrill said the changes fit the goals of making it easier to vote and harder to cheat.
"By streamlining the process to verify absentee voters, we are making the submission of an absentee application easier and more efficient for all who are eligible," said Secretary Merrill.
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