A coalition of civil rights, voting rights and disability rights organizations filed a lawsuit in federal court against Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, Alabama’s 42 District Attorneys, and Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen to block Alabama’s recently-enacted Senate Bill 1 (SB 1). This law directly targets, drastically restricts, and severely penalizes basic nonpartisan civic engagement efforts that enable all Alabamians to access their freedom to vote. 

Under SB 1’s severe restrictions, the work of numerous community members, non-partisan organizations, and volunteers, who promote election participation across Alabama, is now criminalized. SB 1 now makes it a Class B felony – punishable by up to 20 years in prison – to provide a stamp or sticker to your neighbor when providing them routine absentee ballot application assistance. Other Class B felonies in Alabama include first-degree manslaughter and second-degree rape. SB 1 also makes it a felony to “receive a payment or a gift” from someone providing routine absentee application assistance.  

SB 1’s criminal penalties are not just limited to when payments or gifts are exchanged. Under the new law, it is a misdemeanor to “prefill” or “submit” another person’s absentee ballot application. Again, the bill leaves these terms undefined, meaning that a community member who delivers a disabled neighbor’s absentee ballot application to USPS could be charged with a misdemeanor. 

As a result of SB 1’s high criminal penalties and undefined terms, community organizations and volunteers are left to guess what voter engagement activities could lead to decades behind bars. Both prosecution under SB 1, and the chilling effect the law has on pro-democracy activities, violates numerous fundamental constitutional rights, including the rights to free speech and due process. 

Alabama already has some of the most burdensome and restrictive voting laws. Alabama is just one of four states without early in-person voting and one of just fourteen states that requires an “excuse” for absentee voting. Further, unlike nearly every other state, there is no broad right to vote absentee for Alabamians over age 65 or for everyone with a disability. Civic rights, voting rights, and disability rights groups offer critical assistance to voters who must navigate these complex restrictions and procedures in order to exercise their right to vote.   

Absent a court decision preventing the Attorney General and Alabama District Attorneys from charging and prosecuting community organizations and volunteers who provide routine absentee ballot application assistance, many eligible voters – including those who are elderly, disabled, or blind – will be unable to receive the necessary assistance they require to vote. Rather than putting resources into increasing civic engagement, SB 1 creates new unconstitutional barriers and criminal penalties for people trying to assist neighbors who want to exercise their right to vote absentee. 

The lawsuit filed today challenges SB 1 as violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act, and the Help America Vote Act of 2002. 

The lawsuit, Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, et al. v. Marshall, et al., was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama by the ACLU of Alabama, Campaign Legal Center, Legal Defense Fund, and Southern Poverty Law Center, on behalf of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, Greater Birmingham Ministries, League of Women Voters of Alabama, and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program. 

Date filed

April 4, 2024