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Southern Poverty Law Center announces new Voting Rights Team, criticizes state for discouraging voters

Gabby Dance

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The Southern Poverty Law Center released a statement announcing their new Voting Rights Team and encouraging the state of Alabama to increase voter turnout by ending practices that discourage voters, like requiring voter identification and marking voters as inactive in the state’s voter rolls.

The new Voting Rights Team will challenge laws and practices that suppress voters or allow gerrymandering. They will also work to engage voters in the South.

According to Nancy Abudu, the deputy legal director of the SPLC, a 2013 revision to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which bans discrimination in voting, made voting in Alabama more difficult for minorities, young people and those with disabilities.

“A constitutional challenge from Shelby County, Alabama, dismantled key provisions in the Voting Rights Act,” Abudu said. “Section 5 of the act requires certain jurisdictions with a history of discrimination in voting – including Alabama – to seek approval from the U.S. Department of Justice before making any changes to their voting laws or practices. In its 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the coverage formula used to determine which jurisdictions need to get such approval.”

On May 13, 2019, Abudu testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on House Administration during their hearing called “Voting Rights and Election Administration in Alabama.”

“Alabama is regularly below the national average for voter turnout – with only 47.5 percent of eligible voters casting a ballot in the state in 2018 despite historic turnout nationally – and that this lack of engagement can be traced directly to backwards state policies,” Abudu said. “Alabama has failed to adopt popular, effective programs that increase participation such as no-excuse absentee voting and early voting.”

Abudu mentioned a 2016 quote from Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill in which he told a documentary film crew that people who are “too sorry or lazy” to register to vote “don’t deserve that privilege,” as evidence that Alabama lawmakers want voting to be a challenge.

“The man in charge of administering Alabama’s elections freely admits that he does not see voting as a fundamental right that he is supposed to safeguard,” Abudu said. “Instead, he sees it as a privilege reserved only for those with the time and resources to navigate the outdated and archaic system he oversees.

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According to Abudu, Merrill has removed over 780,000 voters from the state’s voter rolls since 2015 during his career as secretary of state. Over 340,000 separate voters were listed as inactive in 2017, a step that leads to removal from the rolls.

“Despite making it more difficult for voters marked ‘inactive’ to vote in future elections, Merrill counts these registrants that his own office has declared ‘inactive’ in his voter registration calculations in order to artificially inflate registration statistics,” Abudu said. “That’s in part how he gets that 94 percent of eligible Alabamians are registered to vote and that 96 percent of eligible black voters are registered in the state.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau and Kaiser Family Foundation, about 69 percent of eligible Alabamians and 67 percent of black Alabamians are registered to vote.

The SPLC is also standing against voter identification laws, which require voters to provide an approved form of identification to cast their ballot.

These were put in place in 2011, after the Shelby County v. Holder decision.

“A state senator who worked for over a decade to pass the voter ID bill told The Huntsville Times that his law would undermine Alabama’s ‘black power structure,’ and that the absence of a voter ID law ‘benefits black elected officials,’” Abudu said. “He was correct. Voter ID laws do have a disparate impact on communities of color. Black and Latino voters are about twice as likely as white voters to lack an acceptable form of identification.”

Abudu criticized the Alabama legislature for failing to consider legislation introduced in the recent session that would have addressed some of these barriers on voting rights, saying the Voting Rights Team plans to shed more light on these issues in the future.

“Alabama has what it needs to increase voter turnout and engagement,” Abudu said. “All it lacks is the political will to do so.”

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Amid the pandemic, a campaign adapts

Chip Brownlee

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He stepped up to the podium, an American flag behind his right shoulder, an Alabama flag to his left. These briefings are much like any other press conference the senator has given since he took office in January 2018, except these are streamed on Facebook Live, and Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama wore a camouflage turkey hunting mask — the same one he’s worn on the floor of the U.S. Senate and in hearings.

He decided to wear it after a turkey hunt with his son and a friend a few weeks ago, with appropriate social-distancing, of course.

“Unfortunately, I think the turkeys were also maintaining social distancing from those who were trying to attract them,” Jones said in an interview. “I just thought, this is kind of nice. Why don’t I just go ahead and wear it? It’s an interesting mask for a southern Democrat.”

Since our interview, Jones has not backed off from his insistence that others wear a mask, too, when in public places. He regularly echoes messages from State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson, Gov. Kay Ivey and even Alabama head football coach Nick Saban, who all have stressed the importance of face coverings.

“There is so much misinformation that’s going on out there,” Jones said. “You know, I just feel like I have an obligation. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a scientist. I’m trying to learn and do the best I can. But for me to do the best I can, I’ve got to learn. I’ve got to listen. I think it’s important for the public to do that as well.”

Since he began the live-streamed press conferences seven weeks ago, they’ve gotten more than 300,000 views and have become a parade of the who’s who of Alabama’s COVID response. Public health experts, local officials, doctors and business leaders have been regular guests. Since the COVID-19 crisis began for Alabama in mid-March, Jones, the state’s junior senator, has been one of the most available and outspoken elected officials in Alabama, even when he’s in Washington. He lets public health experts answer questions. He urges caution.

“My responsibility is to get accurate information out from people who know the science and understand what we’re up against from a science and health standpoint,” Jones said in an interview. “Don’t listen to politicians on either side of the aisle unless they are just parroting what a health care professional says. Listen to science and listen to the data.”

In these briefings, Jones has avoided politics and campaign talk. He rarely casts blame, though he hasn’t been afraid to criticize the Trump administration’s handling of the virus or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for “playing politics.”

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A first-term Democrat elected in a surprise upset election in 2017, Jones has been walking a line between praising Alabama’s Republican governor for her leadership and criticizing President Donald Trump for what Jones says has been, and continues to be, a lack of leadership from the White House.

But what’s nearly as noticeable is what he has barely mentioned since Alabama confirmed its first case in March: his re-election campaign.

Jones is up for re-election in November as perhaps the most vulnerable incumbent Democrat in the country.

In a normal world, the campaign would be in full swing by now. But in COVID-era Alabama, despite the governor’s easing of restrictions, Jones does not even have an opponent, yet, and the campaign is in partial hibernation as the senator focuses on his work in his official capacity as a senator.

“Everything except fundraising has been on hold,” Jones said. “We’ve done some campaign Zoom, virtual events. But to be honest with you, I’ve been so engaged since March trying to do those things that I think I need to do as a senator, we still are trying to formulate what a campaign looks like going forward.”

Jones has sent a letter to nearly every agency in the federal government, it seems like, over the past month or two — whether it is the USDA, seeking more aid for cattlemen and dairy producers, or with questions about how the USDA is implementing food assistance programs. Or the Treasury, asking that taxpayers receive their relief stimulus payments on debit cards to make it easier and faster. He’s worked with Republicans like Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton to get those things done.

He’s also pushed for expanded economic relief for small businesses and their employees through his Paycheck Security Act, a refundable tax credit of up to $90,000 annually per employee, to rehire and pay laid off and furloughed workers and restore their health care benefits.

If passed, it would also provide small and mid-sized businesses with funds to pay for rent, mortgages, utilities and other operating costs until they can reopen safely and sales begin to recover.

In the past few weeks, Jones has been pressing hard for a plan to bring health care manufacturing back to America — and to Alabama in particular.

“We’re so dependent on foreign countries — China and other countries — for our personal protective equipment, including for our prescription drugs,” Jones said. “We need to do all that we can to bring that manufacturing home. We should never ever get caught again in regard to a shortage of PPE because we don’t have enough for this country. There’s no reason why we can’t do it.”

Jones proposes using tax incentives for companies that build medical equipment in the U.S., retrain workers for those jobs and encourages companies to restart idle factories to make health care equipment.

“I think we could be the next healthcare manufacturing hub just like we’ve done so well with automobile manufacturing. There’s no question it’s coming,” Jones said. “Now we want Alabama to be on the forefront of that. I want us to be on the cutting edge of that, to be out front and not lose it to some of the other southern states.”

Regardless of who is nominated as the Republican candidate, Jones faces another uphill battle. As much as he is a full-blooded southerner — someone raised in a family that once supported firebrand segregationist Gov. George Wallace, someone who would wear a camo hunting mask to a press conference, someone who frequents deer stands with a rifle in the winter and turkey hunts in the spring — Jones is also a full-blooded Democrat.

He was a prosecutor appointed by President Bill Clinton, and has been a friend and supporter of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden since the former vice president’s first run for the presidency in the 1980s. In the few years since he took office, Jones has made it a mission to build up the Alabama Democratic Party, which was out of money and without a winning statewide candidate for nearly a decade before his win in 2017.

As much as Jones’s 2017 election — defined by the sexual assault, misconduct and harassment allegations against his opponent former, Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore — was shrouded in uncertainty and surprise, the 2020 campaign is likely to be even more chaotic in that it will be shrouded by concerns over the novel coronavirus.

Not only is Jones, a moderate Democrat, running for re-election in a red state loyal to Trump, he’s doing so in the middle of a pandemic.

“At this point, we would have thought we would have had an opponent by April 1, and more things would be transitioned over to campaign events,” Jones said. “We’ve just not been able to do that, for obvious reasons. But also, it’s just been extremely busy. I’ve felt like it is part of my job to try to be out there as much as I can to let folks know that we’re working. They don’t want to hear a campaign speech.”

While Jones has been holding weekly briefings, with more time in front of the camera than the state’s governor, his potential opponents have taken to attacking each other in public fashion. Trump has repeatedly waded into the fight.

Jones’s challenger hasn’t been picked yet. The primary runoff that will decide between former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville and former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was postponed until July because of concerns over the virus.

While the two are battling over their support for Trump, they’ve largely avoided the topic of the pandemic. Sessions releases statements every few weeks calling for plans to “hold the Communist Chinese Government accountable for its cover-up of the Wuhan Virus” and little else.

Sessions’ feud with Trump and Tuberville, which reached a fever-pitch over the weekend, has grabbed far more headlines than anything Sessions or Tuberville have proposed to address the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis.

Jones said he’s paying little attention to that feud, even when he gets “@-ed” by the president on Twitter. Trump called Jones a “weak & pathetic puppet for Crazy Nancy Pelosi & Cryin’ Chuck Schumer” on Saturday in a tweet bashing Sessions and supporting Tuberville.

“I don’t really pay much attention to Jeff Sessions and Tommy Tuberville at this point,” Jones said. “We had a hell of a record going into February and March of this year. I was very, very proud of the things we’ve done for veterans, things for businesses, things for farmers. But we’ve been able to do things during this pandemic that have been extremely important for the folks in Alabama.”

No matter how the GOP primary turns out, Jones will be facing off against another unknown, as he has so many times before. Sessions, once a favored son, has drawn repeated criticism from Trump for recusing from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Tuberville has no government experience, though being a football coach might as well be a public office in Alabama.

Despite the virus, Republican campaign groups are beginning to hammer Jones over his support for Biden, and Republicans are banking on picking up Jones’s Senate seat.

Jones said he is confident the voters in Alabama will be able to judge his work separately from the party he is in.

“There are so many things that we have done for so many different groups in Alabama,” Jones said. “I think people are recognizing that all of a sudden, this Democrat who got elected in 2017 is paying attention, and we’ve been there for people. They see what we have done for the last two years, but they also see what we’ve done during this crisis.”

Trump won Alabama by nearly 28 percentage points in 2016, and Jones won by only a razor-thin margin in 2017, despite his opponent being credibly accused of sexual misconduct with women decades his junior. Republicans believe Moore was a particularly terrible general election candidate, and that pretty much any other Republican could beat Jones.

The allegations united a strange and perhaps unprecedented, at least in Alabama’s history, coalition of moderate crossover Republicans and black people, women and young voters who showed up for Jones. Either way, Moore had a history of underperforming in statewide general elections, having come close to losing an election to the Supreme Court in 2012.

But a national crisis is playing into Jones’s strength: handling situations outside of his control. He played the role of the “sane one” in the 2017 special election defined by accusations against his opponent, and he’s likely to be in a similar position again in 2020, regularly putting public health experts front and center while his opponents either avoid the spotlight, try to shift blame overseas or tie Jones to liberal Democrats in Washington.

“I’m not there to have President Trump’s back,” Jones said. “I’m not there to have President Biden’s back. I’m there to have Alabama’s back. And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing and that’s what we’re going to continue to do — doesn’t matter to me how Jeff Sessions or Tommy Tuberville approach what they think needs to be done. I think the people of Alabama want somebody that’s got their back, and not somebody else’s.”

As Jones heads into the 2020 election, he may be largely on his own. The two leading Democratic campaign groups reserved nearly $100 million for the November election in half a dozen states with Republican incumbents, Politico reported. But Jones was left out, and the largest Democratic Senate campaign groups won’t commit to spending big money on his re-election.

But even as those groups won’t commit, Jones is sitting on a war chest that’s nearly 10 times the size of either of his potential opponents. He has nearly $8 million saved up in his campaign account for the upcoming battle.

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Elections

Alabama Democratic Party announces qualifying dates for State House District 49 special election

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday the Alabama Democratic Party announced that it has opened on-line qualifying for the upcoming special election in State House District 49.

Any resident of House District 49 may complete a form and apply in person, by mail, or online. The prorated application fee is $558.26. Please call the Democratic Party office at (334) 262-2221 to verify residency and to request additional information.

Candidates may qualify on-line at any time during the qualifying period at: http://aldemocrats.org//

Anyone needing to qualify in-person may come to the Alabama Democratic Party headquarters at 501 Adams Avenue Montgomery. Or candidates may mail in the paperwork to the Alabama Democratic Party, P.O. Box 950, Montgomery, AL 36101.

Qualifying will close on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. CST, per the proclamation issued by Governor Kay Ivey (R). All papers and the fee must be turned in at that time.

The vacancy in House District 49 was created when State Representative April Weaver, R-Briarfield, resigned to take a President Donald J. Trump (R) appointment as a regional director of the Department of Health and Human Services.

House District 49 consists of portions of Bibb, Shelby and Chilton Counties.

The special primary election for House District 49 will be held on Tuesday, August 4, 2020. If a runoff election is needed, it will be held on Tuesday, September 1, 2020. The general election will be held on Tuesday, November 3, 2020.

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ALGOP announces qualifying dates for State House District 49 special election

Brandon Moseley

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Friday the Alabama Republican Party announced that it will open on-line qualifying for the upcoming special election in State House District 49 on Monday, May 25, 2020 at 8:30 a.m. CDT on the party’s website (algop.org).

Candidates may qualify on-line at any time during the qualifying period.

Anyone needing to qualify in-person may come to the Alabama Republican Party headquarters in Hoover at 3505 Lorna Road beginning Tuesday, May 26, 2020. The office will be closed on Monday in observance of Memorial Day. The office is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. CST.

Qualifying will close on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. CST, per the proclamation issued by Governor Kay Ivey (R).

The vacancy in House District 49 was created when State Representative April Weaver, R-Briarfield, resigned to take a President Donald J. Trump (R) appointment as a regional director of the Department of Health and Human Services.

House District 49 consists of portions of Bibb, Shelby and Chilton Counties.

The special primary election for House District 49 will be held on Tuesday, August 4, 2020. If a runoff election is needed, it will be held on Tuesday, September 1, 2020. The general election will be held on Tuesday, November 3, 2020.

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Sessions: China “needs our markets more than we need theirs”

Brandon Moseley

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Former Senator and current Senate candidate Jeff Sessions (R) spoke to the Huntsville Republican Men’s Breakfast group on Saturday, where China was a major focus of his remarks.

“China needs our markets more than we need theirs,” Sessions insisted. “We can make their products ourselves our buy them someplace else. We can buy from India, the Philippines, South America.”

The strain of the coronavirus that has killed 94,948 Americans in the last 83 days was first identified in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China in late 2019.

“They knew early in in December that this was a contagious disease,” Sessions charged. “They did not tell the world until January 20.”

Sessions said that according to one study if the Chinese had shared what they knew with the world in December that 95 percent of the COVID-19 deaths globally could have been prevented.

“They are going to be our number one adversary for one hundred years,” Sessions predicted. “Their ideology does not need to lead the world.”

Sessions was also critical of the World Health Organization and their handling of the global pandemic.

“It is unbelievable that the World Health Organization on January 14 told us that this pandemic was not contagious,” Sessions said.

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Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is an Ethiopian health researcher who heads the WHO.

“I have drafted question that Mr. Tedros needs to answer if he wants to get this money (U.S. funding),” Sessions continued. “How did he get elected?”

“His advice to the world is one of the most colossal world health mistakes ever, not one of, but the worst,” Sessions said. “Thousands have died as a result.”

Sessions suggested that the media was misleading the American people on the virus.

“There are some basic false information being spread by the media.” Sessions said. They like to report that we have the most deaths of any nation. Belgium has three times as many deaths per capita as we do. Many European nations have twice the death rate we do. This is a global pandemic. This is not just the United State.

Session is running against former Auburn head football Coach Tommy Tuberville in the July 14 Republican primary runoff for U.S. Senate.

Sessions promised to fight for Alabama values if he is elected to the U.S. Senate.

“They want more than a potted plant,” Sessions said of what Alabamians want from their Senator. “They want them to be an advocate for the great values that Alabamians share.”

Sessions said that he is endorsed by Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama). “I am proud that he is supporting me in my campaign.”

Sessions said that he and Donald Trump stand up for the Americans people and that wages had been rising thanks to Trump’s economic policies prior to the pandemic.

“For thirty wages their wages were flat. The average American makes $55,000 a year,” Sessions said. “Half of our people make less than that. We need to make sure that we are hearing them.”

“We need to make sure that everybody benefits,” when the economy recovers from the pandemic Sessions said.

Sessions blasted the modern Democratic Party.

“I know for a fact if Republicans are not leading America radicals will,” Sessions said. “The leftwing radical agenda of Democrats today. Many of them have Marxist ideological leanings.”

Sessions promised to fight illegal immigration and loopholes within our immigration system.

“I knew about them in the Senate and have learned even more as attorney general,” Sessions said.

Sessions predicted that the American people will re-elect Donald Trump as President.

“I know he and I have disagreed on one matter,” Sessions said speaking of Trump’s unhappiness with Sessions’ decision to recuse himself in the Russian collusion scandal. “Everyone in Alabama knows that.”

“I followed the law,” Sessions explained. “I did what I had to do.” I can not investigate a campaign that I was involved in. “That whole year I gave virtually every waking moment to electing Donald Trump. I was confident that he would be cleared, but it took a lot longer than I thought it would. He has now been cleared he can now run for reelection without one thought about the Russian hoax.”

“Biden can not stand up to him,” Sessions predicted. “I believe we will be successful in this race.”

“I do love the Republican Party,” Sessions said. “Where was my opponent in that election that went to the wall? He was nowhere to be found. I was the number one person in Congress working for the President and certainly in the Senate.”

Sessions praised the people of Huntsville and said that he hoped that he would have their support.

“There is no place like this in the entire world,” referring to the city’s role in defense, aerospace, homeland security, and space research.

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