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Low turnout, ‘inactive’ status the stories of special election primaries

By Josh Moon

Alabama Political Reporter

It has not been a particularly good election day.

Early indications from the special election Senate primaries on Tuesday are that voter turnout will be historically low – somewhere around the 10-percent mark – and there have been numerous issues with voters finding themselves listed as “inactive” when trying to vote.

Secretary of State John Merrill said he wasn’t “100 percent certain exactly what happened” that caused so many voters to be labeled as “inactive,” but he was certain that it wasn’t a partisan issue.

“One of the first people to tell me that they were listed as inactive this morning was Rep. (Mo) Brooks,” Merrill said. “I’ve also heard from (state) Rep. (Patricia) Todd. So, clearly, this wasn’t an attempt to disenfranchise one side or the other. It was a problem with the post office somewhere along the way and we need to figure out what happened.”

Merrill said the problems stemmed from mailers his office sent out several months ago alerting voters that an update (or purge) of the voting rolls was under way in Alabama. The mailer had to be returned by the registered.

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For the cards that weren’t returned or were returned with a notice from the Post Office that it was undeliverable, a second notice was sent. If that notice also wasn’t returned or was returned by the Post Office, the voter was automatically moved to the “inactive” file.

Merrill said more than 340,000 Alabama voters were now listed as “inactive” in the Secretary of State’s database.

“That will not keep them from voting,” Merrill said. “They can absolutely update their information at their polling location, receive a ballot and vote. If they are not voting today, they can do it online again starting tomorrow.”

Merrill said the low-turnout election – which he predicted wouldn’t attract more than 15 percent of eligible voters, but would likely be closer to 10 percent – was actually a blessing, because it revealed the issues with the inactive statuses and will give his office a chance to fix them.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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