How HB 194 could impact Alabamians’ access to voting resources

Sara Lang, Contributing Writer

The Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill on March 10 that prohibits the use of private donations to fund election expenses, and members of Vote Everywhere UA traveled to Montgomery on Tuesday for the public hearing.

House Bill 194 is intended to prevent the use of “Zuckerbucks” — large donations that earned the nickname after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg donated during the 2020 presidential campaign — from influencing elections.

However, the ambiguous wording of the bill poses a problem for organizations like Vote Everywhere, a campus group that works with election officials to increase voter registration and education.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Wes Allen, says “no state or local public official responsible for the conduct of an election, nor his or her employee, may solicit, accept, or use any donation in the form of money, grants, property, or personal services from an individual or a nongovernmental entity for the purpose of funding election-related expenses or voter education, voter outreach, or voter registration programs.”

Anyone found guilty would be charged with a misdemeanor.

“I think everyone should agree that our elections should be fair and open and safe and secure and not for sale to anyone,” Allen said in a tweet on March 10.

Sam Robson, a sophomore majoring in political science and philosophy, a member of Vote Everywhere. He said that donations not only include money, but other activities such as poll worker training and transportation. The phrase “personal services” in the definition of donations worries him.

“This effectively bans election officials from working with nonprofits,” Robson said. “And in the narrow cases where collaboration would be allowed, we expect that state employees will refuse out of fear of jail time. Something as simple as sitting with our local registrar to register students on the Quad would be a criminal offense.”

Robson and Amelia Pugh, a sophomore majoring in interdisciplinary studies and history with a legal concentration, traveled to Montgomery on Tuesday, March 29, as representatives of Vote Everywhere to attend the Governmental Affairs Committee public hearing for the bill.

Robson and Pugh both propose that if the Senate passes the bill, an amendment removing the term “personal services” should be added to allow organizations to work with election officials.

Before they could offer testimony, the hearing was adjourned because the state misstated the number of speakers allowed.

“It was very Alabama state politics,” Pugh said.

Vote Everywhere’s stated goal is to make the voting registration process easier for students and to increase the vote at The University of Alabama. Pugh said the bill would limit voter education.

“As one of the foremost rights of citizenship, voting should be protected and encouraged,” Vote Everywhere said in a statement. “Without the ability for community organizations to conduct voter registration and outreach, many Alabamians who wish to participate in the electoral process will lack the necessary tools and resources to do so. House Bill 194 should raise concerns across party lines due to its impact on Alabamians’ ability to access voting resources.”

The bill now moves to the Senate floor for a hearing.

“All we can do now is lobby to amend it or vote it down,” Robson said. If students want to send a message to their legislator, they can do so at this link: Considering Alabama’s history, we should not take for granted that we live in a time where the government and advocacy groups can meaningfully collaborate.”

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