A bill before the Alabama legislature proposes creating a website where the voters lists for each county can reside, taking that information out of the state’s community newspapers and putting it online. Not only is that a waste of taxpayer dollars, it’s contrary to what the spirit of the public notice law is about.
First, a website for public notices - such as the voters list for each county - is already available, at no cost to the state or to those who seek the information. Alabamapublicnotices.com provides 24/7 access to public notices across the state at no charge to users. To create a state-run website that does the same thing is a waste of taxpayer dollars.
HB 371, sponsored by Andrew Sorrell (R-Muscle Shoals), also overlooks the very heart of public notices: they should be public. In the past year, the woeful state of rural internet access has become painfully apparent. To be fair, the state legislature has done much in the past several years to advance high speed internet access within the state, but it’s going to be several years before Alabamians have reliable internet access. Voter registration information is far too important to be left to spotty internet access.
In addition, even if there is reliable internet access, having a permanent record of voter information is important to accountability and transparency. The voter’s list is a permanent document and resource which cannot be changed, altered or hacked. Nothing is more important than Alabama utilizing every single asset to insure every vote counts, and preserving the integrity of a transparent election.
Finally, there is the effectiveness of push vs. pull communications. A voters list published in a newspaper of record, going to the homes and businesses of readers, pushes the voters list into their awareness. Passively placing the information on a website and expecting voters to seek out the information is an ineffective way of communicating this important information. Worse, this is a year where states will be going through reapportionment once the Census Bureau releases the new population figures. This means voters may be placed in new voting districts and be assigned new voting places.
Why eliminate an important tool – particularly in the rural counties and underserved communities – at a critical time?
We encourage our state delegation to keep these points in mind when considering HB 371. Public notices, especially ones as important as our voter lists, should not be pushed out of the public’s sight.