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Featured Opinion

Those in power really don’t want you to vote. You scare them.

By Joey Kennedy
Alabama Political Reporter

So, Republican Alabama Secretary of State John H. Merrill tells us Tuesday in a guest column for The Alabama Political Reporter, no more crossover voting in the State.

Republicans who vote in a Republican Primary, and Democrats who vote in a Democratic Primary, have to vote in those same party primaries if there’s a runoff.

Allowing voters to vote for whom they want, in whatever election, is a “disruption in the electoral process,” Merrill argues, apparently with a straight face.

This is more of a continued, long-term Republican campaign to suppress voting. We’ve got strict photo voter ID laws (even though there’s little evidence anybody commits voter fraud at the polls, no matter what President Donald Trump says).

We have in Alabama some of the toughest ballot access laws in the nation, meaning anybody but Republicans and Democrats are going to have to have a near-impossible task to get on a State ballot. Libertarians, Green Party, Independents – any candidate other than a Republican or Democrat – simply find it practically impossible to access Alabama’s ballot.

We have few opportunities at early voting. We can’t vote on the Internet (but we can buy just about anything over secure servers using our debit or credit cards).

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And Merrill has few qualms sharing our voting data with Trump’s cronies, even though voting regulations are clearly a State function. Where are all the Republicans (and Democrats) hollering about States’ rights now?

Maybe it would be different if the political parties paid for State and local elections. Then, perhaps, they could make whatever rules they wanted to make.

But our elections, which cost millions of dollars, are paid for by taxpayers. Anybody should be able to vote in whichever party primary they want, and in whichever party runoff they want, since, after all, they’re paying for it.

No, controlling elections (and who can vote) is one of the ways Republicans, especially, game the system. Throwing up as many roadblocks as possible helps, and gerrymandering voting districts is one of the sleights-of-hand that keeps Republicans in control.

And they’re not about to let that go without a fight, no matter how unfair.

We need, of course, open primaries, like some states with more fair voting laws already have. Let every candidate who wants to run – Democrat, Republican, Green Party, Libertarian, Socialist, Independent, run and campaign at the same time. We’ll elect who we want, not who one of the two major parties tells us.

The top vote-getters are in a runoff. If somebody wins a majority, they’re elected. And everybody gets to vote for the person, not the party, they want. The way it is in Alabama now, by the time the party primaries are settled, we’re often left with two terrible candidates and have to choose the lesser of the two evils.

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Little wonder our voter turnout is so sorry. Really, what’s the incentive for voters to trudge to the polls under the stacked system we have?

So in the Special US Senate election coming up on Aug. 15, if you vote for a Democrat in the first primary, you’re locked in for the runoff. If you vote for a Republican, the same (At least the General Election still allows you to vote for whomever you wish, but by then, it’s often a done deal).

In Birmingham City elections (coming up Aug. 22), the vote is nonpartisan. Anybody can get on the ballot, and in Birmingham, that’s a lot of people.

In the upcoming elections in Alabama’s largest city, there are nearly 100 candidates for nine City Council positions, nine City School Board positions, and for mayor.

In all, 12 of those candidates are running for mayor, including incumbent William A. Bell Sr. Unlike in recent elections, Bell may have a real race on his hands with community organizer (and school board member) Randall Woodfin, who has gained national attention during his campaign.

Some Birmingham City Council and School Board seats have eight or nine candidates. Sure, some are the gadflies, like Frank Matthews for mayor or Antwon Womack for Board of Education. They run all the time.

The point is, they all run in one big gumbo – no party primaries. If there’s a runoff, the top candidates go against each other, regardless of party.

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I’d like to say this encourages voters to go to the polls, but Birmingham usually has a pretty pathetic voter turnout as well.

Still, it’s not like state elections, where the top Republican goes against the top Democrat, and, dammit, when you’ve picked your party, you’ve picked your party’s candidate, even in taxpayer-funded elections and even if you don’t like the candidate.

We could do a whole lot better. Merrill knows that. Anybody who keeps up knows that.

We won’t, though, because the party in control is in control. At taxpayer expense, no less. We need more open, accessible elections, but then, our politicians would have to trust all voters – black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Muslim, Christian, Atheist, all of them – and they’re not about to do that.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected].


Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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