Democrats in Alabama know they’re outnumbered. Often in statewide contests they lose by 20 points. Obviously, the one exception was the 2017 U.S. Senate special election where Doug Jones defeated an embattled Roy Moore.
Otherwise, Democrats have been unable to find the right ingredients to mount a successful challenge to Republicans going back over the last decade.
To right this ship that appears to be meandering to no place in particular, Democrats are emphasizing voting and voter participation.
It was on display throughout Alabama during the 2018 election cycle. Failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams made it a central focus of her campaign. Earlier this month at the “Bloody Sunday” bridge crossing commemoration in Selma, it was the central theme.
Apparently, the party elders within the Democratic Party think if they can make their base believe Republicans are trying to suppress their vote, it will encourage more voting by Democrats.
“[C]learly, when fewer people vote, Republicans and the GOP win,” Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, said in an interview with Ella Nilsen of Vox when asked about the partisan nature of voting rights last December. “They’ve done so in the name of voter fraud, but there’s no evidence of pervasive voting fraud in America.”
Sewell, who represents Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, has championed measures to loosen restrictions on voting. She has come out against mandatory photo IDs. She has been an outspoken critic of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision, which struck down federal preclearance requirements for local governments seeking to change voter laws in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Earlier this year, Sewell and Sen. Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, unveiled H.R. 4, deemed The Voting Rights Advancement Act, which seeks to revive preclearance elements.
One of the reasons Sewell and her Democratic colleagues have used in making their case is that some Republican-controlled legislatures have shortened early voting.
Aside from absentee voting, there is no early voting in Alabama. But in other states where no-excuse early voting is permitted, a county will have a handful of the usual polling precincts open for voting as if it were Election Day a week or two ahead of actual Election Day.
Cost issues aside, it sounds simple enough, right?
If it were in Mobile County, perhaps you could have a handful of precincts that were open a week early — Government Plaza, South Mobile County, Citronelle, Satsuma, Spring Hill, Semmes, etc. In Baldwin County, you could do something similar — Eastern Shore, Bay Minette, Foley, Orange Beach, Lillian, etc.
In lesser populated counties, perhaps it’s a location near the county courthouse.
The idea is that if you want to vote early, your polling location might not be close in proximity, but the option would be there. Otherwise, you wait until Election Day and vote at your regular polling place.
Let’s play this out. If Alabama should pass a law to offer an early voting option, what impact would this have on the state’s elections?
It’s unlikely you would see a dramatic shift away from Alabama as a Republican stronghold. Actually, early voting might even make Alabama more Republican than it is now.
There is a widely held belief that only Democrats partake in early voting. However, the split of early voting Republicans and Democrats is more of a reflection of a state. If the state leans blue, Democrats will lead the way in early voting. If it leans red, Republicans will lead the way.
Take the past couple of elections in Florida. In 2016, Donald Trump won the Sunshine State’s 29 electoral votes. In 2018, Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott won contests for governor and U.S. Senate, respectively. A lot of Republicans took advantage of Florida’s early voting option.
Statistics might suggest early voting favors Democrats nationally. However, given there are more Democrat-leaning states than Republican-leaning states that have an early voting option, that could be the reason.
If the Republicans controlling the levers of power in Alabama were to offer early voting as a show of goodwill to Sewell and other Democrats in Alabama, it wouldn’t mean Republicans would be giving up anything politically.
What might have happened in 2017’s U.S. Senate special election if Alabama allowed early voting? That election was decided by a very thin margin. But in a red state where Republicans easily outnumber Democrats, if there were just a couple of thousand Republicans that sat out in 2017 given the option to make participation in that election more convenient, we might have “Sen. Roy Moore” today.
Why not do it, then? There is a cost. Operating a polling precinct isn’t free. Multiply that by at least 67 for every county, and it could cost the state a sizable sum.
Also, would there be a lot of takers? Perhaps there would be in the more populated counties. However, in some of the lesser-populated counties, you may have very small vote totals that do not justify the cost.
Early voting won’t be a cure-all for societal ills. It probably won’t change much at all about the state on a policy level.
However, it’s not something to be afraid of and it might help boost Republicans — not that they need it in Alabama.
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