By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
There are two ways to win an election:
One, identify your target voters, reach out to them with a narrative that resonates with them and that motivates them to come to the polls to vote for you and the message that you are delivering.
Two, identify the voters that are unlikely to vote for you and then act to neutralize those voters. That second strategy is much harder actually to implement and follow, though Alabama made those sorts of tactics famous during decades of segregation where voter suppression, using both the power of the State as well as sometimes criminal brute force, disenfranchised Blacks and many poor Whites.
Recently there have been accusations made that certain campaigns have adopted a dishonest strategy of holding voter registration drives and then identifying their likely voters and registering them, while at the same time identifying voters that are less likely to support their cause and then not registering those voters. A new bill being introduced by Alabama State Representative John Merrill (R) would make it a crime for organizers of voter drives to accept registrations and then not turn them in.
Trey Edwards (the owner of Victory Political Social Media) announced on Facebook, “I am excited to announce that after two months of discussion, debate, and work, Representative and Secretary of State Candidate John Merrill (R from Tuscaloosa) and I are filing a bill in the Alabama Legislature to protect against and prosecute voter fraud in this state. The goal of the bill is to protect voters against deception. More specifically, to address the issue of people who hold voter registration drives and only turn in the forms of people that they believe will vote a certain way.”
Edwards said that he was a victim of one such unscrupulous voter drive, “On election day, 2012, I was unable to vote in the town I lived in because of this problem, which is rampant and well-documented in this state, especially in the Shoals area. I updated my registration information at a voter registration drive on campus, only to discover on election day that I was not registered to vote. I had not expected a voter ID card because I already knew that the individual on campus turned in all of her forms on the last possible day, 10 days before the election. When I went to the Registrar’s office, I discovered that I was far from the only person suffering from this problem. Apparently the individual running the voter drive had been well known for years at both the county board of registrars and the secretary of state’s office for filtering out the forms of anyone they thought would vote Republican. However, there was absolutely nothing that either department could do about it, because there is no state law on the books that allows them to prosecute this behavior. I posted my frustrations on Facebook and my story ended up on the 10:00 news that night on WHNT Channel 19.”
Edwards said, “Because of what happened, I approached (state Representative) John Merrill on Nov 1st about trying to solve this problem. He was very excited at my ideas and had me write everything up and send it to him. Together, we devised a two-part solution to this problem.”
Under the proposed law, not turning in forms collected at a voter registration drive would be a Class C Misdemeanor offense. The proposed law would prohibit anyone convicted of voter fraud from working at a voter registration drive for a year after their conviction. Anyone holding a voter registration drive would be required to turn in the forms no later than 72 business hours after the forms have been completed.
Rep. Merrill is also proposing as an administrative rule change: a requirement that voter registration forms given to a voter registration drive be identified by a unique number for the person who is requesting the forms for a voter drive. Any board of registrar or secretary of state employee could put that number into their database and see the contact information for the person who requested the forms.
According to Edwards, at the bottom of the form, there will be a tear-off tab with this same identifier which the person hosting the drive will be required to tear off and hand to the person registering as a receipt. This essentially gives the person receiving the forms the legal ability to act as a proxy and submit these forms on behalf of the person filling them out, and provides proof of that transaction so that if the forms never reach their destination, that receipt can be used as evidence that the form was filled out, and the individual could be potentially prosecuted for voter fraud under the statute.
Rep. Merrill is running for Alabama Secretary of State. If elected, he is promising to make the necessary administrative change to implement the second part of his plan.
The Alabama Secretary of State’s office has no returning incumbent. Beth Chapman (R), who was term limited from running again, left the post early to accept a position with ALFA. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) appointed former Secretary of State Jim Bennett (R) to finish her term. Three Republicans are pursing the position in the June Republican Primary: Rep. John Merrill (R), Reese McKinney (R) and Jim Perdue (R). The winner will likely face a Democrat in November, though ‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ is not aware of an announced Democratic candidate for Secretary of State at this time.