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State Agencies Unite for Alabama Elections Fairness Project

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt, Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Monday, March 16, Alabama Secretary of State John H. Merrill, Attorney General Luther Strange, and Secretary of Law Enforcement Spencer Collier announced in a joint press conference in Montgomery that their three agencies have reached an agreement to cooperate to ensure fairer elections in Alabama.

The Alabama Election Fairness Project will commence with the office of the Secretary of State, who can ask for assistance from investigators from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, and depending on the severity of an issue, may culminate with the Attorney General seeking prosecution.

Secretary of State Merrill said, if there are any suspected irregularities with the Fair Campaign Practices Act, election, or referendum issues, the Secretary of State’s office can be notified at:

www.sos.alabama.gov or www.alabamavotes.gov

Click on the “Stop Voter Fraud Now” button.

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You may also confidentially email your allegation to:

[email protected]

Or, you can speak to a member of the Secretary of State (SOS) staff by calling toll free: 1-800-274-VOTE (8683).

If the Secretary of State’s Office believe further investigation is needed they will refer the case to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA). Secretary of Law Enforcement Spencer Collier said in a written statement, “ALEA will work closely with our partners to protect the voting rights of Alabama citizens by investigating criminal election law violations, including forgery, fraud, and misappropriation of funds.”

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If that investigation turns up evidence that crimes occurred or that additional investigation is needed the Attorney General’s Office stands ready to work with local district attorneys to take the matter to the grand jury, if necessary. Attorney General Luther Strange said, “The right to vote is a sacred and fundamental civil right and the foundation of our democracy,” said Attorney General Strange. “My office, working together with the Secretary of State and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, is committed to preserve the integrity of our elections process. We take allegations of voter fraud seriously, and when the situation and facts warrant it, we will investigate and prosecute these matters aggressively.”

The Alabama Political Reporter asked: You will be looking at the campaign finances as contributions were given and reported?

Secretary Merrill replied, “Yes. One of the things our offices are doing now and we started doing this as soon as I became the Sec. of State, our staff, under the Director of Elections Ed Packard and his entire team are devoting a portion of their day each day to investigating reports that have been submitted to us. What happened before was the reports were received and filed but we didn’t have the staff to investigate them or the contributions or expenses. So we’re reviewing each and every report dating back to June 3rd, 2013.”

Secretary Merrill said, “It became very evident to me that we had a disconnect between our citizens who were very interested and very concerned about the appropriate way to issue complaints about campaign finance violations, election fraud, voter registration fraud and things that are connected to insuring that we have fair and safe elections…It became very clear to me that we have to take some kind of action that would be appropriate to make sure these things were dealt with in a positive, consistent and timely basis. And, it was my opinion, based on the things that I heard, that what we needed to do was to strengthen the office of Secretary of State by bringing subpoena power to our office and putting us in a position to request to have granted court orders whenever it was necessary.”

Merrill continued, “However, after talking to some members of the Legislature, I quickly realized that some of the support that was necessary in order to advance that position was not going to be there. And, so what we needed to do was to find another way to make it more effective, and more efficient with existing agencies and organizations that were already in place.”

The Alabama Political Reporter asked: Other than if there are illegalities that you find where campaign finance laws have been broken, are there any penalties in place or will the legislature look at any penalties for these “common” infractions that we see where reports are filed improperly and then amended or not filed in a timely manner? There doesn’t seem to be any teeth in actually doing this correctly.

Secretary Merrill said, “That’s part of the problem…we have some legislation currently being considered that will make sure those penalties in place will be imposed….we want people to know that from now every complaint is going to have a human eye on it and it will be researched and investigated accurately and filed in a proper manner.”

Sec. Merrill said that inquiries or allegations about election or Fair Campaign Practice Act irregularities for the June 2014 Primary, July 2014 Runoff, November 2014 General Election, and any recent or upcoming referendum or election  will be reviewed by the Secretary of State’s Office and investigated, if appropriate. If you go to the SOS website: alabamavote.gov or sos.alabama.gov you will find a link that will enable citizens to register a complaint.  Sec. Merrill said, “And when we’ve advanced it as far as we possibly can, at that point, we will turn it over to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.”

The Director of the State Bureau of Investigation (S.B.I.) Gene Wiggins explained that S.B.I. will be the lead agency when they receive a complaint from SOS. When they’re done with it they send it to the Attorney General.

The Alabama Political Reporter asked: Dark Money was a big issue in the last campaign. There was a lot of mud-slinging about whether it was Right or Left. Is that something that you can look at, does the State have the power to do that, and will you be looking at it?

Sec. Merrill said, “This is the reason why this current relationship is so important because as the current campaign finance laws stand, we can’t really find out much more than what’s reported in the forms. But, you know who can? Somebody with a subpoena or a court order.”

The Alabama Election Fairness Project will start with the election cycle we’ve just experienced.  They will review the 2014 General Election, the party run-off elections and the 2014 party primaries.  All referendums that happened between those dates are also still subject to investigation.

Sec. Merrill said, “When I had the conversation with Attorney General Luther Strange and Secretary Spencer Collier from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, it became very clear to us that what we needed to do was to form a partnership to advance our position to insure we would have safe and fair elections.”

Director Wiggins said, “We want you to understand that whenever there has been reports of a violation that we identify and investigate the perpetrator, and if it’s warranted, they are indicted and prosecuted. But, in order for that to happen appropriately and properly we have to work together as a team. So what we’re doing is using existing resources that the taxpayers of Alabama have already given us to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to meet the needs of all 4.8 million people that we serve.”

For more information about the services provided at the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office, visit: www.sos.alabama.gov

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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USDA is seeking rural energy grant applications

The deadlines to apply for grants is Feb. 1, 2021, and March 31, 2021. Applications for loan guarantees are accepted year-round.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

United States Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Bette Brand on Wednesday invited applications for loan guarantees and grants for renewable energy systems, and to make energy efficiency improvements, conduct energy audits and provide development assistance.

The funding is being provided through the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program, which was created under the 2008 Farm Bill and reauthorized under the 2018 Farm Bill. This notice seeks applications for Fiscal Year 2021 funding.

The deadlines to apply for grants is Feb. 1, 2021, and March 31, 2021. Applications for loan guarantees are accepted year-round.

REAP helps agricultural producers and rural small businesses reduce energy costs and consumption by purchasing and installing renewable energy systems and making energy efficiency improvements in their operations.

Eligible systems may derive energy from wind, solar, hydroelectric, ocean, hydrogen, geothermal or renewable biomass (including anaerobic digesters).

USDA encourages applications that will support recommendations made in the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to help improve life in rural America.

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Applicants are encouraged to consider projects that provide measurable results in helping rural communities build robust and sustainable economies through strategic investments.

Key strategies include achieving e-Connectivity for rural America, developing the rural economy, harnessing technological innovation, supporting a rural workforce and improving quality of life. For additional information, see the notice in the Federal Register.

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Trump says that coronavirus vaccine deliveries will begin within two weeks

Trump said that front-line workers, medical personnel and senior citizens would be the vaccine’s first recipients.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

President Donald Trump said Thursday that coronavirus vaccine deliveries will begin as early as next week.

“The whole world is suffering, and we are rounding the curve,” Trump said. “And the vaccines are being delivered next week or the week after.”

Trump made the announcement during a special Thanksgiving holiday message to U.S. troops overseas via teleconference. Trump said that front-line workers, medical personnel and senior citizens would be the vaccine’s first recipients. He also argued that his election opponent, President-elect Joe Biden, should not be given credit for the vaccines, which were developed during the Trump administration.

Trump referred to the vaccines, which were developed and tested in less than ten months as a “medical miracle.”

Regulators at the FDA will review Pfizer’s request for an emergency use authorization for its vaccine developed with BioNTech during a meeting on Dec. 10. The director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research says a decision is expected within weeks, possibly days after that key meeting.

The latest trial data for Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine showed that it was 90 percent effective.

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The CDC plans to vote next week on where the distribution of approved vaccines will begin and who will be allowed to get the first vaccines when they become available.

Dr. Celene Gounder, a member of Biden’s COVID Advisory Board, warned against rushing a vaccine to market.

“The single biggest risk of rushing an approval would be Americans’ distrust the vaccine,” Grounder said. “It’s essential people feel confident this is a safe and effective vaccine.”

Moderna said that its vaccine is 94.5 percent effective in preventing COVID-19.

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AstraZeneca says its preliminary results showed its vaccine ranged from 62 percent to 90 percent effective depending on the dosage amount given to participants. AstraZeneca is having to launch a second round of global trials to clear up the discrepancies.

Many Americans appear to have ignored CDC warnings to scale back Thanksgiving holiday plans. More than six million Americans flew over the holiday week, raising fears by public health officials that the surge in coronavirus cases we are experiencing now will be followed by a bigger surge in the next three weeks.

As of press time, there have been 62 million diagnosed cases of coronavirus cases in the world, including nearly 13.5 million in the United States, but many cases are mild and go undiagnosed.

A CDC researcher estimates that the real number of infections in the U.S. has topped 53 million since February. More than 1.4 million people have died around the world since the virus first appeared in China late last year. The death toll includes 271,029 Americans and 3,572 Alabamians.

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The Iron Bowl is today

Alabama will have to play without head football coach Nick Saban who has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Brandon Moseley

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The 2019 Iron Bowl (VIA ALABAMA FOOTBALL/UNIV. OF ALABAMA ATHLETICS)

The Auburn University college football team will play the University of Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa on Saturday with the game kicking off at 2:30 p.m. Attendance is strictly limited because of COVID-19 restrictions. The game will be televised on CBS stations.

Alabama will have to play without head football coach Nick Saban who has tested positive for the coronavirus and is experiencing mild symptoms. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will coach the Crimson Tide in Saban’s absence. He has a 46-35 record as a head coach at USC and Washington.

Auburn will be coached by Gus Malzahn, who has a 67-33 record as a head coach. He is the fifth winningest coach in Auburn history, trailing only Shug Jordan, Mike Donahue, Pat Dye and now-Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville.

Alabama has a 7-0 record and is currently the No. 1 team in the country in the college football rankings. Auburn is 5-2 but with a win could still win the SEC West with wins in its remaining two games, and if Alabama were to lose another game down the stretch. Alabama is just one game ahead of Texas A&M for first place in the SEC West, but the Tide has the tiebreaker by virtue of having defeated the Aggies in head-to-head competition.

In addition to team honors, there is a lot riding for individual players in today’s game. Alabama redshirt junior quarterback Mac Jones has thrown for 2,426 yards and 18 touchdowns in Alabama’s first seven games. Jones’s strong performance has made him a Heisman contender and has earned him consideration as a possible first-round or high second-round draft pick by the NFL if he were to leave Alabama early.

Auburn quarterback Bo Nix has thrown for 1,627 yards and ten touchdowns over seven games.

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Alabama and Auburn played their first football game against each other in Lakeview Park in Birmingham on Feb. 22, 1893. The game is called the Iron Bowl because historically the game was played on a neutral site: Birmingham’s historic Legion Field. Birmingham at the time was best known for the iron that was mined there and then made into steel and other metal products.

The game is now played as a home and home series, but the Iron Bowl name has stuck with the rivalry.

Alabama leads the series with 46 wins to Auburn’s 37. There has been one tie. Auburn defeated Alabama 48 to 45 in last year’s high scoring contest.

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Health

Vaccines should protect against mutated strains of coronavirus

Public health experts say it will be some time before vaccines are available to the wider public.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Multiple vaccines for COVID-19 are in clinical trials, and one has already applied for emergency use authorization, but how good will those vaccines be against a mutating coronavirus? A UAB doctor says they’ll do just fine. 

Dr. Rachael Lee, UAB’s hospital epidemiologist, told reporters earlier this week that there have been small genetic mutations in COVID-19. What researchers are seeing in the virus here is slightly different than what’s seen in the virus in China, she said. 

“But luckily the way that these vaccines have been created, specifically the mRNA vaccines, is an area that is the same for all of these viruses,” Lee said, referring to the new type of vaccine known as mRNA, which uses genetic material, rather than a weakened or inactive germ, to trigger an immune response. 

The U.S. Food And Drug Administration is to review the drug company Pfizer’s vaccine on Dec. 10. Pfizer’s vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, as is a vaccine produced by the drug maker Moderna, which is expected to also soon apply for emergency use approval. 

“I think that is incredibly good news, that even though we may see some slight mutations,  we should have a vaccine that should cover all of those different mutations,” Lee said. 

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Wisconsin-Madison found in a recent study, published in the journal Science, that COVID-19 has mutated in ways that make it spread much more easily, but the mutation may also make it more susceptible to vaccines. 

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In a separate study, researchers with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation found that while most vaccines were modeled after an earlier strain of COVID-19, they found no evidence that the vaccines wouldn’t provide the same immunity response for the new, more dominant strain. 

“This brings the world one step closer to a safe and effective vaccine to protect people and save lives,” said CSIRO chief executive Dr. Larry Marshall, according to Science Daily

While it may not be long before vaccines begin to be shipped to states, public health experts warn it will be some time before vaccines are available to the wider public. Scarce supplies at first will be allocated for those at greatest risk, including health care workers who are regularly exposed to coronavirus patients, and the elderly and ill. 

Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, speaking to APR last week, urged the public to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing for many more months, as the department works to make the vaccines more widely available.

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“Just because the first shots are rolling out doesn’t mean it’s time to stop doing everything we’ve been trying to get people to do for months. It’s not going to be widely available for a little while,” Harris said.

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