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Alabama voter priorities: Jobs and the economy rank high

Chip Brownlee

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Last year, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama surveyed Alabama voters to gauge their priorities heading into this year’s statewide elections.

That report showed broad agreement among voters about key issues facing the state. First among the issues were Pre-K–12 education, health care and government ethics and corruption. Further down the list was jobs, the economy and crime, which ranked No. 6 and No. 7, respectively.

PARCA released their full report earlier this summer, but the group is now breaking down each category into summary briefs.

Their most recent report on jobs and economy provide a look into how voters are viewing the state’s business climate and recent economic growth that has led to a record-low unemployment rate and high labor participation.

Fifty-six percent of respondents said they were very concerned about jobs and the economy. The issue ranked highly regardless of subgroups like political party affiliation, generational divides, gender, educational attainment and race. The issue did rank lower for liberals than for conservatives and moderates.

Within that category, voters were asked to identify their top priorities when it comes to jobs. Thirty-two percent of those surveyed selected increasing the minimum wage as their top priority. Another 24 percent said the number of available jobs was their priority, and 22 percent said they were concerned about the availability of qualified workers.

Wage growth was least important and was selected only by 18 percent of respondents.

PARCA partnered with Samford University to survey policy professionals from across the state including academics, journalists, business and nonprofit leaders, and lobbyists. The responses they obtained were compiled into a list of 17 critical issues facing the state. PARCA then worked with USA Polling at the University of South Alabama to asked registered voters about those issues.

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The full report can be viewed here, along with previous summary briefs on the top 10 issues.

 

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Josh Moon

Opinion | Merrill’s opinions on vote by mail not supported by facts

Josh Moon

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Voting by mail does not lead to fraud. 

We know this because voting by absentee ballot is essentially the same thing as voting by mail. And it is so safe that millions of people, including the U.S. military, the current president, most of his family, a good chunk of Alabama legislators and about half of Congress, do it every year and still the incidents of fraud are less than 1 percent. 

There have been exhaustive studies and audits completed to prove this point, including “research” conducted by a committee formed by Donald Trump three years ago. That committee found no real evidence of widespread voter fraud of any kind, only unique instances in which bad actors with access to ballots committed crimes. 

The rate of fraud in the 2016 election was 4 in more than 130 million votes cast. There was no evidence of undocumented workers voting. No evidence of in-person fraud. No evidence of widespread absentee ballot fraud. No evidence of hacking. No evidence of dead people voting. 

And most importantly, in states, such as Florida, that allow for mail-in voting, there was no evidence that casting a ballot by mail has ever spurred any increase whatsoever in voter fraud. 

These facts are apparently lost on Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, who, in an effort to attract the eye of Trump on Twitter, declared that Alabama would not have a direct vote-by-mail option to provide citizens with a safe, secure alternative to voting in person in the middle of a pandemic. 

Merrill then followed that up with an appearance on CNN — an appearance he is apparently proud of since he’s retweeted a clip of the interview about a dozen times over the last two days — in which he bemoaned the clear and present danger that mail-in voting clearly brings. 

And how does he know that voting by mail will increase fraud in elections? Because in Alabama, there has been voter fraud and 83 percent of the fraud committed has been absentee ballot fraud. 

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Case closed. 

Well, except for a couple of minor points. 

First, 83 percent of what number? 

Six. Yes, Merrill’s 83 percent figure that he cited to support his position that mail-in voting is unsafe was reference to the 5 out of 6 convictions in voter fraud cases over the past eight years. (It’s likely that there have been just six convictions — out of millions of ballots cast — over the last 12 years, but searching for specific charges in Alabama’s online court filing system is nearly impossible.)

That’s right, Alabama has experienced a grand total of six voter fraud convictions over the past eight years. And five of those convictions were for tampering with absentee ballots. 

However, it’s worth noting that not a single conviction involved votes in a statewide or legislative race. Four of them stemmed from the same incident in which workers rigged a city commission race in Dothan. 

That’s probably because you can’t commit enough fraud to alter the outcome of such a race. You can’t have more votes than registered voters, and you can only steal so many ballots before someone catches on. 

Regardless, six is the number of fraud cases Merrill was leaning on to justify his decision to not simply mail out absentee ballot applications to all registered voters. 

And here’s the second point that undermines this ridiculous argument: If absentee ballot fraud is so much of a problem that we can’t allow mailed ballots in a pandemic, then why hasn’t the Republican-dominated Alabama Legislature passed a single law to restrict absentee ballot access or make them more secure? 

The legislature certainly hasn’t been shy about passing voter ID laws to address in-person voter fraud. That type of fraud occurs at roughly .0000013 percent. In Alabama specifically, we’ve had one conviction for in-person fraud in the past 20-plus years. 

Still, the Alabama Legislature pushed through an absurd voter ID law a few years ago, requiring specific forms of government-issued photo IDs. 

But for the fraud that is so widespread that we’re prepared to ask people to risk their lives, nothing. 

Not a single bill. Not a single law. Not even a discussion of a bill. 

So weird. Mail-in fraud is so worrisome that we can’t risk even sending voters an absentee ballot application unless they ask for it, but not so worrisome that state lawmakers will do anything at all to address it. 

If I didn’t know better, I might think the Republicans running this state are really happy with some people voting by mail and scared to death of mail-in voting making it easy for massive numbers of Alabamians to cast votes. 

Making this whole matter even more absurd is the “fix” that Merrill and state leaders have come up with to address the concerns of people who don’t want to risk COVID-19 infection by voting in person: Lie. 

Alabama has included a new reason on applications requesting an absentee ballot. Voters can now select that they are “ill or infirmed” and unable to appear at the ballot box. Merrill, along with Gov. Kay Ivey, has instructed anyone who fears standing in line at a polling location during a pandemic to simply check that box. You don’t have to be ill or infirmed to do so. 

Swell. 

Merrill loves to repeat the line you’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts, and he should live by that now. Because the facts are decidedly against him on this. 

There is no evidence that mail-in voting is more susceptible to fraud. There is no evidence that the absentee ballot system in this state has been subjected to widespread fraud. The only fraud Merrill can cite are six cases from small-town races, where the people involved had access to multiple ballots because of their employment. 

In truth, there’s only one reason mail-in voting won’t be an option here: The more people who vote, the fewer Republicans get elected.

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Courts

Alabama Parole and Probation Officers supervising nearly 9,000 violent criminals

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, the Alabama Department of Pardons and Paroles released a report shared this week with state legislators and the media that shows that Alabama’s 300 parole and probation officers are tasked with supervising 8,993 persons convicted of violent crimes.

The officers are tasked with supervising 27, Alabama offenders as well as more than 3,600 offenders from other states who chose to move to Alabama following their incarceration in other states. Those are just the active cases. There are an additional 22,947 inactive offenders for a total caseload of 50.055.

“The supervision of all these offenders that our officers provide daily is crucial to the safety of Alabamians and we are thankful for the selfless and dedicated work of these law enforcement officers,” Bureau Director Charlie Graddick said in a statement.

Judge Graddick said that the Bureau put nine new officers into the field last week to begin supervising parolees and probationers and hopes to hire up to 138 more officers over the next three years, if the budget allows. In the session that recently ended, the Legislature cut the Bureau’s budget nearly in half.

“We are in need of more officers as we work to reduce caseloads,” Judge Graddick said.

The report shows that 79 percent of the Alabama clients the Bureau supervises were granted probation by judges throughout the state. Sixteen percent of the Alabama offenders are parolees who were granted release from prison by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles. Of the 6,078 Alabama parolees being supervised, 58 percent are violent offenders, some requiring much more intensive supervision.

39,649 are males. Of the male offenders 18,759 are White (47.3 percent), 20.066 are Black (50.6 percent), 58 are Native Americans (.1 percent), 613 are Hispanic (1.5 percent), 62 are Asians (.2 percent), 3 a Pacific Islanders, and 88 are of unknown racial identity (.2 percent). Of the 10,355 female offenders 7,061 are White (68.2 percent), 3,190 are Black (30.8 percent), 21 are Native American (.2 percent), 51 are Hispanic (.5 percent), 10 are Asians (.1 percent), 1 is a Pacific Islander, and 21 (.2 percent) are of unknown racial identity.

Alabama has historically underfunded and understaffed the aging prison facilities managed by the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC). The Alabama Department of Pardons and Paroles is tasked with attempting to safely reintegrate parolees into society as well as to rehabilitate offenders sentenced to probation so that they do not reoffend and have to join the state’s prison population. A recent Department of Justice report claimed that Alabama’s prisons are the most dangerous in the country.

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The state has a critical need for more prison capacity to reduce prison overcrowding and protect the public from dangerous criminals.

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Economy

Sewell, Rogers vote for bipartisan bills to improve Paycheck Protection Program

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, U.S. Representatives Terri Sewell (D-Selma) and Mike Rogers (R-Saks) voted in favor of a bipartisan bills aimed at improving the Paycheck Protection Program, the Payroll Protection Program Flexibility Act.

“The Paycheck Protection Program has been a lifeline for tens of thousands of Alabama businesses, but there are still too many small businesses that have been unable to access necessary resources because of the program’s strict stipulations,” Rep. Sewell said. “Many small businesses have not applied despite their urgent need because they do not believe they can meet the current standards; and many are afraid to use the money because of the program’s strict requirements. The bills the House passed today would both make the PPP program more flexible so it can reach more small businesses in need, and also increase the program’s transparency to ensure funding is going to main street businesses that need support the most.”

“I was pleased H.R. 7010, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Flexibility Act passed the House today with my strong support,” said Rep. Rogers. “The PPP has been a lifeline of support to so many businesses across East Alabama and the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Alabama, 60,000 PPP loans have been issued since early April, with the average loan being $103,586. The bill will add more flexibility to these loans to help small businesses even more. It will extend the loan forgiveness period, allow businesses that receive forgiveness to also receive payroll tax deferment and will allow businesses to spend different amounts on payroll costs and mortgage, rent, and other expenses. I hope these modifications will further help our small businesses that are the heartbeat of our local economies.”

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), more than 60,000 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans have been issued to small businesses in Alabama, with each recipient receiving an average PPP loan of about $100,000.

According to Sewell’s office, H.R. 7010, the bipartisan Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act, would provide needed flexibility to the Paycheck Protection Program, originally created by Congress in the CARES Act in April, in order to make this key program functional for the small businesses that need it the most.

Sewell’s office provided a lengthy explanation of what the legislation does:

Under the current Paycheck Protection Program, the PPP loan converts to a grant as long as the small business uses the loan within eight weeks of the CARES Act enactment – that is, by June 30 – and uses at least 75 percent of the loan proceeds on payroll and the rest for such necessary expenses as rent, mortgage interest, and utilities. Many small businesses, particularly very small businesses, have reported that, with these restrictions, the loans do not meet their needs.

The bill makes the PPP program more flexible in the following key ways, in order to make it more accessible and usable for the vulnerable small businesses that need it the most:

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Allowing loan forgiveness for expenses beyond the 8-week covered period to 24 weeks and extending the rehiring deadline. Back in March, the PPP program was established as an eight-week program, ending on June 30. However, it is clear that the economic effects of the pandemic will impact small businesses long past June 30. The current eight-week timeline does not work for local businesses that could only very recently have customers and those that are only allowed to open with very heavy restrictions. Small businesses need the flexibility to spread the loan proceeds over the full course of the crisis, until demand returns.

Increasing the current limitation on the use of loan proceeds for nonpayroll expenses from 25 percent to 40 percent. Currently, under regulations issued by the Trump Administration, the PPP loans require that no more than 25 percent of loan proceeds can be spent on non-payroll expenses such as rent, mortgage interest, and utilities. This limitation has prevented many small businesses, such as independent restaurants, from applying to the program because their rent is significantly more than 25 percent of their monthly expenses. The 40 percent limitation in this bill is much more realistic.

Extending the program from June 30 to December 31. By ensuring the PPP program will operate for 24 weeks, rather than only eight, this bill will ensure that many more truly small businesses will be able to take advantage of the program.

Extending loan terms from two years to five years. According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, full recovery for that industry following both the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the 2008 recession took more than two full years. This was also true for many other industries. If the past is any indication of the future, it will take many businesses more than two years to achieve sufficient revenues to pay back the loan.

Ensuring full access to payroll tax deferment for businesses that take PPP loans. The purpose of PPP and the payroll tax deferment was to provide businesses with liquidity to weather the crisis. Receiving both should not be considered double-dipping. Businesses need access to both sources of cash flow to survive.

The Payroll Protection Program Flexibility Act passed on a 417 to 1 vote. Alabama Congressmembers Bradley Byrne, Mo Brooks, Robert Aderholt, Martha Roby, and Gary Palmer also voted for the legislation. It now heads to the Senate for their consideration.

Congressman Mike Rogers represents the Alabama’s Third Congressional District. Congresswoman Terri Sewell represents Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District.

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Congress

Brooks, Palmer join lawsuit against House’s proxy voting rule change

Brandon Moseley

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Both Congressmen Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) and Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) have joined constituents and members of the House Republican Conference as plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of H.Res. 965, a recently passed resolution that allows representatives to cast votes for themselves and others on the House floor. This rule change was instigated by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and her Democratic colleagues on a party line vote.

“This rule change is not a mere procedure change, but a direct assault on the Constitution and over 200 years of precedent,” Rep. Palmer said. “The Constitution requires that Congress assembles. There is no emergency so great that Congress cannot meet to do its job of representing the people.”

“Pelosi’s proxy voting scheme is not only unprecedented and antithetical to the job of a House member, it is blatantly unconstitutional,” said Rep. Brooks. “Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution requires that a ‘a Majority of each (House of Congress) shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; . . . and (each House) may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members.’ The Constitution requires that the House assemble a majority of its Members to conduct business, and there is no more serious House business than voting.”

“It is in situations like this that Congress must respond to the call, not cower in the corner,” Palmer continued. “Our history is littered with wars, pandemics, and attacks on American soil, but none of that has ever prevented Congress from meeting to do the people’s business. The current public health crisis should not change that precedent. Precautions can be taken, but Congress must show up to work like everyone else.”

“In its 231 year history, the U.S. House of Representatives has never permitted a member to vote by proxy,” Brooks stated. “Never before have Members shirked their duty so blatantly. Whether it was the Spanish Flu of 1918, the Yellow Fever of 1793, the burning of the Capitol during the War of 1812, the Civil War, World Wars I or II, or terrorist attacks on 9/11, Congress had the courage, fortitude and duty to assemble to meet America’s challenges. Unfortunately, it appears those traits are not sufficiently present in today’s House of Representatives.”

“For Speaker Pelosi, this isn’t about safety during the pandemic, but about power,” Palmer continued. “This week, more than 75 Democrats claimed to be unable to attend the votes in Washington, yet we know at least two of them skipped votes not for safety reasons, but to attend the space shuttle launch. This rule change does not reflect representative government, but it does reflect corrupt governing. One member should not be allowed to cast 5 votes on the same legislative matter, but that’s effectively what happened on the House floor this week. You cannot represent your constituents on the House floor when you’re not present to vote on their behalf. This process is an insult to those constituents and to frontline workers who have been working around the clock lately to help our country through the current crisis. Congress must come to work like everyone else, and the American people should demand it just like the Constitution does. That’s why I’m joining my colleagues and concerned citizens in filing this lawsuit in federal court to overturn the resolution that undermines representative government. We cannot let this unconstitutional power grab go unchallenged.”

“The Socialist Democrats’ proxy voting scheme is a blatant attempt to use the pandemic to centralize power in one individual, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, by overturning centuries of tradition and well-founded precedent.” Brooks charged. “America’s Founding Fathers feared centralized power; and there is nothing scarier than Congressmen delegating to others the duty to represent those citizens who elected them to this high office. Each House member vote is the representative vote of the 700,000+ citizens who elected him. A member has no right to give his constituency’s vote away to another person whom that citizenry did not elect. Quite frankly, a Member of Congress who voluntarily refuses to do his most important duty, voting on the House floor, should, at a minimum, decline to accept pay for work not done and, at a maximum, should resign from office so that someone more able can serve and properly perform the voting duties required of a U.S. Congressman. I signed on as a plaintiff in this important lawsuit because I take seriously my oath of office to defend the Constitution. I call on the U.S. Supreme Court to take up this case quickly before Pelosi and her Socialist Democrat Comrades can do more irreparable harm to America’s Constitution.”

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA-23) is the leader of the proxy vote lawsuit. Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) is already one of the plaintiffs.

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Byrne sues Speaker Pelosi to stop House rule changes

“The Constitution is clear that a majority must be present for the House to conduct business,” Rep. Byrne said. “Speaker Pelosi’s attempt to allow Democrats to cast multiple ‘proxy’ votes for their colleagues is a blatant violation of the Constitution. Under rules adopted last week, as few as 22 Democrats could claim a quorum and win a vote against all 197 Republicans. This scheme gives Pelosi and her lieutenants complete and dangerous unconstitutional powers. If Democrats won’t show up to vote, they should turn the speaker’s gavel over to Leader McCarthy and the Republicans who are actually willing to show up and work for the people they represent.”

“This week, House Democrats will break over 230 years of precedent and allow Members of Congress to vote by proxy on the House floor,” Leader McCarthy said. “This is not simply arcane parliamentary procedure. It is a brazen violation of the Constitution, a dereliction of our duty as elected officials, and would silence the American people’s voice during a crisis. Although I wish this matter could have been solved on a bipartisan basis, the stakes are too high to let this injustice go unaddressed. That is why, along with other members of the House and our constituents, I have filed a lawsuit in federal court to overturn Speaker Pelosi’s unconstitutional power grab.”
The Republican plaintiffs point out that in the last 231 years, the House of Representatives has never permitted a member to vote by proxy from the floor of the chamber. This includes during: the Yellow Fever of 1793, the Civil War, the burning of the Capitol during the War of 1812, the Spanish Flu of 1918, and 9/11.

The GOP plaintiffs claim that voting by proxy is flatly prohibited by the Constitution.

Article I, Section 4, Clause 2 states: “The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall . . . .” o Article I, Section 5, Clause 1 states: “Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections . . . and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; . . . and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members.” o Article I, Section 6, Clause 1 states: “The Senators and Representatives . . . shall . . . be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses” • The constitution clearly contemplates the physical gathering together of representatives as a deliberative body. As the Supreme Court has held, to constitute a “quorum” necessary to “do business,” the Constitution requires “the presence of a majority, and when that majority are present the power of the house arises.” United States v. Ballin, 144 U.S. 1, 6 (1892)

The plaintiffs have filed a constitutional challenge in the D.C federal district court seeking to enjoin the use of proxy voting in the United States House of Representatives.

Congressman Mo Brooks represents Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District. Congressman Gary Palmer represents Alabama’s Sixth Congressional District. Alabama Democrats were unable to find candidates willing to challenge either of the two popular incumbents. Brooks did defeat a Republican challenger in March.

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