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Merrill: SPLC criticism is an inaccurate representation of Alabama’s voter laws

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill responded Thursday to a recent op-ed published in the Montgomery Advertiser written by Nancy Abudu from the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center.

“An article published Monday morning by Nancy Abudu presented readers with an inaccurate representation of Alabama’s voter laws and the ways in which the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office has changed the paradigm for voting in the state,” Merrill said. “Ms. Abudu is entitled to her own opinion, but she is not entitled to her own facts.”

“During my time as Alabama’s secretary of state, my team and I have registered 1,269,488 new voters, which brings our total number of registered voters to 3,487,579. Ninety-six percent of all eligible African-Americans in the state of Alabama are registered to vote, 91 percent of all eligible caucasian Alabamians are registered to vote and 94 percent of all eligible Alabamians are registered to vote,” Merrill said. “My goal as Alabama’s 53rd secretary of state is to ensure that each and every eligible U.S. citizen that is a resident of Alabama is registered to vote and receives a free Alabama photo ID.”

Merrill pointed to recent election records posted during his tenure as secretary of state.

“In the last four major elections, please note the following: On March 1, 2016, more than 1.25 million Alabamians voted, breaking every record in the history of the state for participation in a presidential primary,” Merrill said. “On Nov. 8, 2016, more than 2.1 million Alabamians voted, breaking every record in the history of the state for participation in a presidential general election. On Dec. 12, 2017, more than 1.3 million Alabamians voted and participated in the special U.S. Senate election, and on Nov. 6, 2018, more than 1.7 million Alabamians voted, again breaking every record in the history of the state for a midterm general election.”

“Let it be noted that there has never been recorded any instance in which someone has been denied the right to vote without the proper credentials,” Merrill continued. “Ms. Abudu implies that the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision was causative to Alabama passing a voter ID law. This implication is incorrect. Alabama Act 2011-673, commonly referred to as the Alabama Photo Voter Identification Law, was passed prior to the Shelby County v. Holder decision, not in response to the decision.”

“Importantly, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama upheld Alabama’s Photo Identification Law in 2018,” Merrill stated. “In fact, the judge ruled in this case that if every state handled photo ID like Alabama, then every state could have photo ID.”

Democrats claim that black people are less likely to have a valid photo ID and thus are disproportionately impacted by mandatory voter ID laws. That is a supposition that Merrill and Republicans strongly disagree with.

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“In response to Ms. Abudu’s comments on difficulties for disabled voters, our office recently worked with the Alabama Legislature to pass a bill which allows voters who have a permanent disability that prevents them from attending the polls to apply for an absentee ballot on an annual basis,” Merrill continued. “We have created Alabama’s first braille Alabama Voter’s Guide and all counties provide voting machines for disabled voters. In 2016, we created a bipartisan committee to draft and advocate for the successful passage of legislation which states that once an incarcerated individual has served all their time and has paid all fees and all fines associated with their original sentence, their voting rights are restored.”

“We have worked with Alabama State Sen, Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, to pass legislation to make it easier, safer and more secure to cast an absentee ballot,” Merrill added.

“In each of Alabama’s 67 counties, any citizen can obtain a free Alabama voter ID every day that the courthouse is open by visiting the Board of Registrars’ Office and requesting an ID be provided for free,” Merrill stated. “In the unlikely event that a citizen cannot visit their county courthouse or an event where a mobile unit is temporarily stationed, we will go to their home and provide them one. This is not required by state or federal law but is a service provided by our office.”

“I am proud to ensure that in Alabama, we make it easy to vote and hard to cheat,” Merrill concluded.

Republicans argue that photo ID is necessary to prevent voter fraud.

Since March 2015, the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office has closed 902 of 924 citizen complaint submissions regarding voter fraud, with 22 complaints pending review. Additionally, six convictions have been brought forth upon voter fraud-related charges, and two elections have been overturned, rendering those elections invalid.

Abudu is deputy legal director for voting rights at the SPLC.

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Opinion | Dodge the Economic Impact Payment card fees

Joey Kennedy

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My wife received her $1,200 stimulus payment as a direct deposit several weeks ago. I did not get one, even though we file a joint income tax return, she makes more money than I, and our money is deposited into the same bank account.

I just figured there was some kind of mix-up. That’s fine; mostly I’m patient when I’m getting “free” money. I’m not teaching this summer, so the money will come in handy when it comes.

Then this week, a lawyer friend and his wife received their stimulus money on a prepaid debit card. Luckily, my lawyer friend is a lawyer. He always reads the fine print.

More than likely, I would have thrown the fine print part of the stimulus in the trash, and maybe the debit card, too, because the whole thing looks like some sort of scam. And my friend says that in some ways, it is.

About 4 million of the debit cards were sent out by “Money Network Cardholder Services,” with a return address in Omaha, Neb. They are issued by MetaBank, N.A. There is no indication on the envelope that this is indeed the stimulus money approved by Congress. There is a flier inside that says “Enclosed is your Economic Impact Payment Card.” According to reports, the debit cards have been tossed into the garbage by people who think they are some elaborate scam or a solicitation for one of those high-interest credit cards.

They are valid, and your money is loaded onto them for you to spend like any Visa card. Except there are some catches, and this is what my friend is miffed about. He believes unsophisticated folks (that could be me) and marginalized people who receive the cards will succumb to the various fees that an unaware card user can incur.

Most services have no cost. Buy what you want, call for a balance inquiry, transfer the funds to your personal bank account, and use in-network ATMs that carry the AllPoint brand and you won’t be charged.

However, there are fees for using out-of-network, domestic ATMs ($2 after the first withdrawal), $3 for ATM withdrawals in another country, even getting a balance from your ATM, either in-network, out-of-network, domestic and international (25 cents a pop).

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If your card is lost or stolen, you’ll pay for that as well. It’ll cost $7.50 for a new card, and if you want it expedited, that’ll be $17. If I lose my bank’s debit card, or if the card is stolen (both of which have happened to me), my bank replaces the card for free in about five days. If you lose your “economic impact payment card,” it could cost you $24.50 to have it replaced in a timely manner.

And here’s where you can really run up charges: If you use a bank teller for a cash withdrawal on the card, there’s no charge for the first withdrawal, but $5 for subsequent withdrawals using a teller.

If only a small percentage of users end up paying fees because they used the wrong ATM or prefer to get their cash from a human teller, that could add up to millions of dollars for somebody up the line, and that somebody is not going to be you or me.

I’m not complaining. I’m just urging caution if you’re one of the millions of people who received one of these debit cards. Be aware they are coming and don’t fall into the fee-trap that comes with them.

I’m no financial wiz – my family and friends can attest to that – but if I get one of those debit cards, I’m just going to transfer the whole amount into our checking account. If you don’t have a bank account, and many people don’t, I would just cash it out then cut up the card.

But be aware these cards are going out, and if you’re waiting on your stimulus check, you might get a debit card instead. Don’t throw it away. Buy something. It’s what they want you to do.

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

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Governor

Governor awards grants for bulletproof vests

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Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded grants totaling $46,960 to help state law enforcement agencies and the University of Alabama Police Department equip officers with new bulletproof vests. 

“Making sure our state’s law enforcement officers have updated protective equipment is vital to increasing officer safety,” Gov. Ivey said. “I am pleased to assist these agencies in their efforts to provide up-to-date models of protective vests.”

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is using $27,783 to purchase new bulletproof vests for state troopers across Alabama.

Grant funds of $12,490 will enable the Alabama Department of Corrections to purchase bulletproof vests for officers in the department’s K-9 Unit.

The University of Alabama is using a $6,687 grant to purchase new bulletproof vests for university police.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grants from funds made available by the U.S. Department of Justice. “ADECA joins Gov. Ivey in support of our state’s police and corrections officers,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “These grants will assist these three groups in their efforts to make the jobs of our law enforcement officers safer.”

ADECA manages a wide range of programs that support law enforcement, economic development, infrastructure upgrades, recreation, energy conservation, water resources management and career development.

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100+ clergy call on governor to take action on coronavirus effects in underserved communities

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Clergy with Faith in Action Alabama (FIAA), a federation of Faith in Action, are calling on Alabama Governor Kay Ivey to address the racial inequities in Alabama highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, in a public petition that was sent to her office today.

“I am honored to join with more than 100 clergy across race and faith lines throughout the state to impress upon our Gov. Ivey to provide needed leadership to save the lives of our most marginalized,” said Dr. A.B. Sutton, Jr., pastor of Living Stones Temple in Fultondale and the chairman of Faith in Action Alabama’s board of directors. The future of our state depends on it.”

Among the demands in the letter, which has been signed by over 100 clergy, FIAA is calling on Gov. Ivey to commit to greater access to testing in African American and rural communities; to increase emergency resources to food banks, nonprofits and churches so that they can support individuals suffering from the economic effects of the coronavirus; and to support Medicaid expansion so that underinsured and uninsured Alabamians can gain access to affordable quality health care.

The petition comes three weeks after FIAA faith leaders met with Gov. Ivey, Dr. Scott Harris, director of the Alabama Department of Public Health and Gov. Ivey’s chief of staff Jo Bonner; and several weeks after an op-ed published on AL.comdemanded her immediate attention to this issue. Nearly half of the state’s COVID-19 deaths are African Americans, and layoffs from the coronavirus are more likely to happen in black communities.

Just last week, FIAA visited the Jefferson County Jail to distribute masks and hand sanitizer to incarcerated individuals through the LIVE FREE Masks for the People campaign. Inmates across the country have been unable to adequately distance themselves from potential virus carriers and are at a much higher risk for contracting it due to such close confinement.

“As faith leaders, we know that taking action on the issue of systemic racism is an essential way to give praise, honor, and glory to the God of Liberation,” said Dr. Sutton. “James 2:26 says that ‘Faith without works is dead.’ we are putting our faith into action. There is no clear sign as to when the pandemic will be truly be curbed. We cannot continue to act in ignorance when our people are dying.  We need Gov. Ivey to provide bold moral leadership to respond to this grave reality.”

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Economy

Ag commissioner encouraged by Trump order to DOJ to investigate packers for cattle market manipulation

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Rick Pate (R) thanked President Donald J. Trump (R) for asking the Department of Justice to investigate the Big Four meatpackers for possible market manipulation of the price that farmers and ranchers get for their beef cattle.

“I want to thank President Trump for asking the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to expand its investigation into allegations that large U.S. meat packing companies manipulated beef prices farmers received for their cattle at market. USDA has been investigating meatpacker pricing activity since last fall, after live cattle prices plummeted following the Holcomb, Kansas, meat plant fire,” Pate said. “On April 6th, I sent a letter to U.S. Senators Richard Shelby and Doug Jones requesting they join fellow U.S. senators calling on DOJ to investigate meat packing companies’ influence on the cattle market.”

U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) was part of a bipartisan group of 19 Senators who sent a letter to the DOJ urging the AG William Barr and the Department of Justice to investigate possible unfair manipulation of the live cattle markets to fix prices in favor of the packers and against farmers and ranchers.

Jones calls for investigation of potential price fixing by meatpackers

“Cattlemen across America seriously question the ability for their children to take over what are frequently multi-generational, family-owned operations that have served as the engines for their communities and our country’s food supply,” Jones and the Senators wrote. “The precarious market situation for feeders and producers could lead to a widespread collapse of this entire industry, making it susceptible to the forces of vertical integration, which may beset the industry far more quickly than once anticipated. It is critical for the DOJ to act expediently to investigate these concerning circumstances and evaluate potential competitive harms.”

“Four meat packing companies in the U.S. control more than 80 percent of the beef supply and there continues to be a tremendous gap between the cash cattle price farmers receive and the price consumers pay at the store,” Commissioner Pate wrote. “Since the coronavirus outbreak, boxed beef prices have more than doubled, while live cattle prices have dropped about 20 percent.”

Pate is optimistic that cattle farmers will benefit from the DOJ investigation.

“I am encouraged that the investigation seems to be moving forward,” Pate said. “It’s important that cattle farmers who work hard to produce the beef we all enjoy receive a fair price for their cattle.”

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The Senators were joined in urging for a DOJ investigation by 11 State Attorney Generals.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson (R) said, “As a third-generation cattleman myself, I understand the stress many in the cattle business have faced for years. Cattlemen and cattlewomen across the United States are simply asking for transparency and accountability from our meatpackers in the beef business. I applaud Attorney General Eric Schmitt for showing leadership on this issue. It is important our farmers and ranchers understand that Missouri supports them.”

The Big Four meatpackers are: Tyson Foods, Cargill/Excel, JBS Swift, and National Beef.

R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America), a ranchers’ group, filed suit against the Big Four last year alleging illegal market manipulation and monopolistic behavior. R-CALF is urging Congress to bust up the large food processing companies.

Mike Callicrate is one of the co-founders of R-CALF USA and is a farmer-rancher and entrepreneur who owns a boxed beef company in Colorado Springs.

“National security is impossible without food security,” Callicrate told the Alabama Political Reporter. “The security of the State is impossible without food security. Globalization and multinational corporate control of our food systems has left us unable to feed ourselves.”

R-CALF USA believes that the Southeast region should have its own locally owned packing industry rather than being dependent on giant meatpackers located hundreds or even thousands of miles away owned by multi-national corporations.

“Job one should be for Alabama to build local/regional food infrastructure that connects Alabama farmers directly to Alabama consumers,” Callicrate told APR. “This will eventually eliminate the industrial model that is exploiting Alabama citizens and mining the State’s valuable resources. We must make future efforts bomb-proof . . . with a new commitment to antitrust law enforcement, and through support of our food dollars.”

Bill Bullard is the CEO of R-CALF USA.

“Covid19 has magnified a problem that has plagued the industry for years,” Bullard told APR. “We can not go back to where we came from. Restructuring is a necessity! “

COVID-19 exposed the danger of reliance on increasing larger and larger meatpacking plants that slaughter thousands of cattle each day with thousands of workers, many of them immigrants, working literally shoulder to shoulder disassembling animals often at breakneck speeds.

Ranchers group supports president’s order to keep meatpackers operating

Sunday afternoon, the Alabama Political Reporter interviewed Callahan Parrish, a 4th generation Cattle Farmer. Callahan also owns the Cullman Stockyard and is emerging as an Industry Advocate.

“The pandemic has unmasked many fundamental problems associated with the current beef production model. Industry infrastructure, competitive market access for our producers and food security issues top this list,” stated Parrish.

“The skeletonization of the downstream segments of our industry is the result of the packers’ efforts to vertically integrate the cattle industry as they have already accomplished in the hog and poultry industries,” Bullard said. “In a very short time, we’ve lost hundreds of thousands of cattle producers, tens of thousands of farmer-feeders (smaller feedlots), and hundreds of packers, not to mention the loss of local livestock auction yards.”

70 percent of the cattle processed by the big meatpackers is contracted in advance. Prices are determined in the cash or spot market. By hedging against the cash market in livestock auctions the packers are more easily able to manipulate that cash market R-CALF USA contends.

“Without robust competition, the hollowing out of our rural communities will continue,” Bullard said. “It is time we reversed the negative trajectory of our industry by rebuilding our industry’s competitive marketing channels. It is time for Alabama to take a lead in infrastructure overall.”

There are impediments to siting a new regional meatpacker in Alabama. Since John Morrell closed its packing plant in Montgomery in 1992 thousands of Alabama farms and ranches have gone out of business and the state has far fewer cattle than it did a generation ago. Most of the remaining farms and ranches in the state produce 450 to 650 pound feeder calves, not the 1100 to 1500 finished or “fat” cattle that the industry butchers. Order buyers purchase southern calves and ship them out west to Texas, Missouri, or the plains states for growing out and finishing.

That would need to change to support a meatpacker here. While an increasing segment prefers grass finished cattle, most American cattle since the 1950s are finished in feedlots on grain. In 1915 Alabama had 4.5 million crop acres in cotton alone. Today all the crops acres combined in the state are less than 1.5 million acres. Some industry experts say that it is easier to export Alabama calves to the grain than import western gran to Alabama cattle; however Alabama’s poultry farmers grow over a billion chickens a year. Most of the 150 million bushels of corn and 63 million bushels of soybean meal that the chickens eat is imported from out of state. There is also enormous potential for grass finishing in Alabama given the moderate winters and plenty of rainfall.

“In the midst of hardship, Alabama’s Cattle Producers and stakeholders are talking solutions . . . and that is real progress,“ Parrish stated.

(Original writing and research by Montgomery area writer Amy McGhee contributed to this report. McGhee’s parents own and operate an Angus beef cattle farm in Tennessee.)

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