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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.

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.”

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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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Elections

Faith in Action Alabama calls on law enforcement to protect voters from harassment

“In these harrowing days it is incumbent upon all of us as citizens and you and your colleagues as law enforcement professionals to do all we can to maintain this right secured by so much courage and sacrifice.”

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Nine clergy members from across the state have signed an open letter calling on local and state law enforcement to protect voters against intimidation and harassment at the polls.

The clergy are leaders in Faith in Action Alabama, a regional association of Christian congregations affiliated with the national group Faith in Action, the largest grassroots, faith-based organizing network in the country. It seeks to address a range of issues like gun violence, health care, immigration and voting rights.

This is their letter:

Across our country and here in Alabama, it is being seen that citizens are turning out in record numbers to vote early and by absentee ballots. It is very heartening to see so many of our fellow citizens energized and committed to exercising that most fundamental and critical duty of citizenship, the use of their franchise.  As servant leaders of an ecumenical association of nearly 2,000 faith communities across our state we are certainly encouraging our congregants to fulfill this duty either through early, absentee or day of election voting. For us this is not only part of our civic duty, but as people of faith obligation as well.

Unfortunately, it it also largely known that there are forces in our country that are actively, publicly and fervently at work to suppress the votes of some of our fellow citizens. We write to implore you to use the full authority of your office and department to ensure that those who seek to vote, especially on November 3, 2020 are not assailed or intimidated by illegal harassment in their polling places. We believe these threats are pervasive enough and real enough that proactive measures should be in place as citizens come to vote throughout that day. The strong, visible presence of uniformed legitimate law officers will hopefully prevent any attempts at confrontation or intimidation and violence.

The history of our state is marked by the efforts of tens of thousands of Alabamians who marched, protested, brought legal actions, shed their blood and some even gave their lives that every citizen of this state might have full and free access to the ballot box. In these harrowing days it is incumbent upon all of us as citizens and you and your colleagues as law enforcement professionals to do all we can to maintain this right secured by so much courage and sacrifice.

Please be assured of our prayers for you and the men and women of your department who have the awesome responsibility of providing public safety and equal protection under the law for every Alabamian. If we, the members of Faith in Action Alabama’s Clergy Leadership Team, can be of assistance please do not hesitate to call upon us.

Sincerely,

Rev. Jeremiah Chester, St. Mark Baptist Church, Huntsville

Rev. David Frazier, Sr., Revelation Missionary Baptist Church, Mobile, and Moderator, Mobile Baptist Sunlight Association

Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, Fifth Episcopal District of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

Bishop Russell Kendrick, Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast

Bishop Seth O. Lartey, Alabama-Florida Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

President Melvin Owens, Alabama State Missionary Baptist Convention

Bishop Harry L. Seawright, Ninth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church

Dr. A.B. Sutton, Jr., Living Stones Temple, Fultondale

Father Manuel Williams, C.R., Resurrection Catholic Missions of the South, Montgomery

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Elections

Some conservatives oppose Amendment 2

An Alabama Law Institute Committee composed of legislators, judges and lawyers met in secret away from the press and public over 19 months conducting a comprehensive review of Article VI.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A number of prominent conservative voices in the state of Alabama are urging voters to vote no on Amendment 2 on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.

Amendments 2 and 3 are a rewrite of the state constitutional reforms championed by former Chief Justice Howell Heflin in 1973.

An Alabama Law Institute Committee composed of legislators, judges and lawyers met in secret away from the press and public over 19 months, conducting a comprehensive review of Article VI since Heflin’s revisions were approved in Amendment No. 328 in 1973.

The resulting Amendment 2 is one of the most controversial constitutional amendments brought forward by the Republican-controlled Alabama Legislature since Gov. Bob Riley’s controversial Amendment 1 in 2003, which would have raised taxes by over a $1 billion. That was voted down by the voters, and conservatives are asking voters to similarly reject Amendment 2.

Alabama Eagle Forum is urging citizen to vote no on Amendment 2.

Amendment 2 is a complete rewrite of what is an already complicated portion of the Alabama Constitution, and it does many things. One of these is that it strips the power of the Legislature to impeach a judge.

Under current law, the Alabama House of Representatives can bring articles of impeachment against a sitting judge. If the House impeaches, the Senate sits in trial and decides whether the judge has acted improperly and is guilty of what the House has charged them with.

This closely parallels the U.S. Constitution. Amendment 2 would change all of that and instead the only power in state government who can discipline judges would be the Judicial Inquiry Commission, which brings charges against judges, and the Court of the Judiciary, which determines guilt and punishments.

The Alabama Legislature has not impeached anyone in over a hundred years. Amendment 2 would take the power of impeaching members of the judiciary away from future legislatures.

Former Chief Justice Roy Moore opposes Amendment 2 and explained that stripping the Legislature of the power to discipline a judge for cause takes away a powerful check on the judiciary and violates the principle of checks and balances between the three branches of government. Moore also objected to giving more power to the unelected Judicial Inquiry Commission.

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Moore, like Eagle Forum, also strongly objected to taking the chief justice’s power to appoint his own administrative director of the Alabama Court System and instead gives it to the full Supreme Court.

The chief justice is the elected head of the Alabama Court System, but under Amendment 2, he or she would not be able to hire their own administrator but would be forced to work with an administrator chosen by the Supreme Court as a whole.

The current administrative director of the Alabama Court System is Rich Hobson, who was appointed by Chief Justice Tom Parker. Hobson is in his third tenure as administrative director of the Alabama Court System. The previous two times he was appointed by Moore.

When Moore was effectively removed by the Court of the Judiciary his replacement as chief justice fired Hobson.

If Amendment 2 passes, the associate justices could overrule Chief Justice Tom Parker, fire Hobson and replace him with someone of their choosing.

This situation would also apply to Democrats. The last Democrat elected to the role of chief justice was Sue Bell Cobb in 2006. Cobb was able to appoint her own administrative director of the Alabama Court System, but under Amendment 2, the administrative director of the Alabama Court System would have been someone suitable to the Republican associate justices, who could simply outvote the chief justice.

Moore called this move a “power grab” by the associate justices.

“Amendment 2 is really an anti-democratic and anti-Tom Parker amendment,” Foundation for Moral Law staff attorney Matt Clark said. “It is anti-democratic because it removes the people’s main check on the judicial branch, which is impeachment. Instead, it provides that only the Judicial Inquiry Commission, over which the people have no control, may remove a judge from office. It is also designed to strip Chief Justice Parker of his power as the administrative head of the judicial branch to choose his right-hand man for carrying out the judicial branch’s administrative role.”

Eagle Forum also had a number of other objections to the extremely long and complicated Amendment 2, including that it takes away the power of the lieutenant governor to make JIC appointments and gives them to the governor.

The Alabama Constables Association has also come out strongly against Amendment 2, arguing that it would write the funding mechanism for their position completely out of the state constitution.

“Constables are not taxpayer-funded, they are largely voluntary Peace Officers,” said Jefferson County Constable Jonathan Barbee. “The fees they collect from their duties as Officers of the Courts allow them to support the expenses of the office such as vehicles, uniforms, and equipment. Amendment 2 also deletes the language protecting how Constables are paid by private court fees, leaving it in question for the appointed Administrator to decide.”

In Alabama, constables are elected peace officers and act in many of the same ways as do sheriff’s deputies. They’re able to make arrests, serve court papers and provide security for parades, funerals and other functions.

Amendment 2 was sponsored by State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur.

Voters need to remember to vote on the constitutional amendments. Amendment 2 is extremely long and complicated so voters should probably read it and know how they are going to vote before going to the polls.

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FarmPAC endorses congressional candidate Barry Moore

“I’m pleased that FarmPAC has seen fit to endorse me in this election,” Moore said.

Brandon Moseley

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Congressional candidate Barry Moore (VIA MOORE CAMPAIGN)

Republican congressional candidate Barry Moore thanked the Alabama Farmers Federation political action committee, FarmPAC, for endorsing Moore in next week’s 2nd Congressional District general election race.

“I’ve always been proud of the fact that I grew up on a farm,” Moore said. “Farm life teaches you to respect God’s good earth and everything in it. It taught me the value of hard work, and that not everything, like the weather, will always go the way you want it to no matter what you do or how hard you work. That’s something I think a lot of people these days could do with learning.”

“I’m pleased that FarmPAC has seen fit to endorse me in this election,” Moore said. “I’ll continue to be a strong supporter of our farmers and all the businesses that support and rely on them, just like I’ve always been. District 2 is an agricultural district first and foremost, and we can’t forget that.”

“I look forward to working in the next Congress to support Alabama’s farmers and agribusiness by making it easier for them to access new markets and new technologies,” Moore added. “We also need to make sure they aren’t weighed down by excessive regulations and have the backing they need from Washington to compete globally. I have every confidence that, given a chance, Alabama’s farmers can compete with anyone, anywhere. My job in Congress will be to make sure they have that chance.”

A full list of FarmPAC’s endorsements is available here. FarmPAC previously endorsed Dothan businessman Jeff Coleman in the Republican primary, but he was bested by Moore in a Republican primary runoff.

Moore faces Democratic nominee Phyllis Harvey-Hall for the open seat.

Moore is a veteran, small businessman, husband, and father of four from Enterprise. Moore and his wife, Heather, own a waste management business in Enterprise. Moore was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.

Incumbent Congresswoman Martha Roby, R-Alabama, is retiring from Congress after five terms.

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Elections

Jones to attend Auburn student forum, Tuberville hasn’t yet responded to invitation

Jones has agreed to attend the forum, but it was unclear whether Tuberville planned to attend.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Sen. Doug Jones, left, and Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville, right.

The College Democrats at Auburn University and the College Republicans at Auburn University have asked U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, and his Republican opponent, Tommy Tuberville, to attend a student forum on Wednesday.

“We are excited to invite the candidates running for our U.S. Senate seat and provide this opportunity for any Auburn student to hear directly from them, and we hope it will inform our student bodies’ decisions with the November 3rd election only days away,” said Carsten Grove, president of the College Democrats at Auburn University, in a statement.

Jones has agreed to attend the forum, Auburn University College Democrats confirmed for APR on Sunday, but it was unclear whether Tuberville planned to attend. The student organization  was still awaiting a response from Tuberville’s campaign.

Jones has for months requested Tuberville join him in a debate, but Tuberville has declined.

“AUCR takes great pleasure in coming together with AUCD to co-host the Alabama Senate candidates in this forum. We are looking forward to a very informative and constructive event,” said Lydia Maxwell, president of the College Republicans at Auburn University.

Dr. Ryan Williamson, assistant professor of political science, is to emcee the forum, which will be open to all Auburn University students in the Mell Classroom Building at 6 p.m., according to a press release from the College Democrats at Auburn University.

Students will be permitted 30 seconds to ask a question of either candidate, and each candidate will have two minutes to answer, according to the release.

Capacity at the forum will be limited and precautions taken due to COVID-19. Any student with an Auburn ID is welcome and attendance will be first come, first served.

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