The Alabama Senate race is shining a national spotlight on Alabama, and not in the most flattering way. Almost as soon as voting was underway on Tuesday, civil rights groups began receiving hundreds of complaints of voter suppression, and residents and reporters took to social media to report tactics used to intimidate minority voters or force them to cast provisional ballots, according to Mother Jones.
“Some of these voters are told that they cannot vote,” Coty Montag, the director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, wrote in a roundup on Tuesday afternoon. “Others are being given provisional ballots. The correct [procedure] is that voters who appear on the inactive list must be allowed an opportunity to re-identify and vote a regular ballot.”
The group also collected reports of very long lines at precincts where poll workers say they were unprepared for high turnout. Alabama’s secretary of state, Republican John Merrill, has repeatedly predicted low turnout in the special election. Election expert Michael McDonald of the University of Florida tweeted that it was “bordering on malpractice to give this guidance to local election officials who should prepare for higher turnout.” The group has also collected reports of people being prevented from voting by the state’s photo ID law because their IDs have expired.
The complaints coming to these civil rights groups mirror the reports coming from journalists and voters on the ground in Alabama. Here are some of the unconfirmed reports coming in from social media. They paint a portrait of a state that still appears to be wrestling with voter suppression after a long civil rights struggle seeking to end these practices in the state.
One Alabama voter shared her story of being placed on inactive status, even though she is a regular voter, and nearly being stopped from voting entirely.
As told by ThinkProgress:
Dechauna Jiles was excited to cast a ballot on Tuesday for Democratic Senate candidate Doug Jones. She said her parents grew up two blocks from the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, which was bombed by the KKK during the civil rights movement, and it would be a dishonor to her family to not vote in this election.
But when she arrived at her polling place, the First Assembly of God Church, on Tuesday morning, Jiles was told that she was “inactive” on the rolls and would have to cast a provisional ballot — a ballot that will not be counted unless she is able to verify her voter information.
“That makes no sense,” she told ThinkProgress, explaining that the poll workers told her she’d have to drive to another precinct to update her information, even though she voted here last November.
“It’s not that we’re not showing up to vote — we’re being suppressed,” Jiles said. “[Roy Moore, the Republican nominee] is going to win, not because our people didn’t speak, but because our vote was suppressed.”
Jiles said she witnessed at least six other voters also being forced to vote provisional, and reports on Twitter indicate the issue is more widespread than just this one polling location.
“I wasn’t the only person that got turned away,” she said.
Pulling up a local news article on her phone, Jiles pointed to information about how the secretary of state’s office sent out postcards to inactive voters, giving them a chance to change their status. “God knows what addresses they sent these postcards out to,” she said. When she called the secretary of state’s office, Jiles said the person she spoke with claimed that many of their files were “corrupt.”
“Let me guess, just Alabama right?” she said.
Connie Markendorf, a poll worker at the location, said she has worked other elections and the number of “inactive” voters is not atypical this year.
But Aunna Dennis, a national coordinator with the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights, told ThinkProgress that Jiles should not have been prevented from casting a ballot if her address on her ID matches the address on the rolls. Dennis said she is monitoring polls in Montgomery, Alabama and has heard other reports of people being told to vote provisional.
“People are being filed as inactive and told to vote provisionally, although they voted in 2016 as well,” she said. “It seems like it’s a systemic problem.”
Jiles said in the end, she decided to vote provisional because she still want to try to have her voice heard.
“I want everyone to know what’s happening in the state of Alabama,” she said.
Other voters took to Twitter to sound the alarm.
— Kira Lerner (@kira_lerner) December 12, 2017