Connect with us

Elections

John Merrill: Voter registration hero or villain?

Evan Mealins

Published

on

In Secretary of State John Merrill’s announcement video for his 2020 Senate bid, Merrill said, “Doug Jones does not represent Alabama values.”

On most political issues, Merrill is a strict conservative, like many Alabamians. His beliefs about voter registration are no exception.

Merrill has said he views voting as a constitutional right, but one that requires some effort. See, for example, this video where he says, “As long as I’m Secretary of State of Alabama you’re gonna have to show some initiative to become a registered voter in this state,” and “Just because you turned 18 doesn’t give you the right to do anything.” 

Since becoming the top election official, Merrill has positioned himself as a strong proponent of strict voter ID laws and enforcement of those laws. In 2011, Merrill was a co-sponsor of the bill that eventually became Alabama law requiring citizens to present a valid form of state-issued photo ID in order to vote.

“We think that it’s important to emphasize that our desire is to have each and every eligible U.S. citizen that’s a resident of Alabama register to vote and have a photo ID,” Merrill said. 

In an interview with NBC in 2015, Merrill defended Gov. Robert Bentley’s decision to close 31 driver’s license offices across the state, many of which were in Alabama’s “black belt” counties. Every single one of Alabama’s counties where the black population made up at least 75 percent of the total county population suffered a closing. A federal investigation found that the move caused “a disparate and adverse impact on the basis of race,” which was likely especially harmful when considering that Black and Latino citizens are already almost twice as likely to lack acceptable photo ID. 

Merrill made it clear, though, that the move was based on budget cuts, and that all voters still had the opportunity to gain an official voting-only ID at no cost at their local registrars office in all 67 counties in the state. In addition, Merrill has long touted mobile units the state sends for citizens to obtain an ID, free of charge.

Public Service Announcement

He is an opponent of automatic voter registration, claiming that it is not right to force into the system those who do not want to be registered voters. “Why do things that aren’t beneficial?” Merrill said in a phone interview on July 1 when asked whether he would support an opt-out automatic voter registration system. 

“Well, I think [automatic voter registration] is a party matter, and probably, this is the party line. Because automatic voter registration is something that is catching on in the predominantly democratic states,” said Robert McCurley, adjunct professor at both the Cumberland School of Law and the University of Alabama Honors College.

In the seven states and Washington D.C. that have “been operating the [automatic registration] program long enough for meaningful results to be available,” voter registration rates have increased 37.9 percentage points on average, when compared to registration estimates if the automatic system not been adopted, according to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice.

ADVERTISEMENT

In other ways, Merrill has shown a willingness to expand the right to vote. 

In 2017, Gov. Kay Ivey signed a law that enfranchised thousands of people who had been convicted of felonies, and advocates praised the move as a positive step for voting rights. It is estimated that around 60,000 people were affected by this legislation, and Merrill took steps to ensure that those affected by the law are allowed to register to vote if they attempted to do so. He notified registrars and set up a training with them to make certain that felons that are eligible under the new law are allowed to register.

Merrill, however, refused to launch a public awareness campaign to alert eligible voters about their restored voting rights.“Do you know who wrote that bill?” Merrill asked. “That would be me,” he said. Merrill said that he organized the committee that studied the issue and also worked to move the Definition of Moral Turpitude Act through the legislature. 

Once the bill passed, Merrill said he and his office worked with law enforcement, sent out press releases and spoke to different special interest groups to make sure they all knew that it had passed. 

“I don’t know what more I’m expected to do, because if it weren’t for me, it wouldn’t even happen. We had a team that put that effort together and we had a team that worked to make sure that it was accomplished. And that’s what we did, and that’s it,” he concluded.

Instead, he said his focus would remain on reaching the general population and promoting the opportunity for every citizen to obtain a photo ID.

 “We don’t favor any group, we don’t promote any group. We work for everybody, every group, all across the state,” Merrill said.

While some of his actions may raise eyebrows of sharp-eyed citizens, voter registration has increased under Merrill’s tenure as Secretary of State. Merrill said that 96 percent of eligible African-Americans in Alabama are registered to vote, and 94 percent of the total eligible population is registered. Alabama boasts a state record 3,495,143 registered voters now, Merrill said. In 2014, one year before Merrill took office as Secretary of State, there were only 2,948,786 registered voters in Alabama.

Merrill has taken genuine steps to encourage the general population to participate in the political process, like sending out a mobile unit across the state to give free photo IDs out to citizens and ensuring local election offices are open during the same hours of the courthouse in every county. And according to a 2018 article from The Auburn Plainsman, he has even gone to individual homes to deliver photo IDs to people who were unable to visit local offices or the mobile unit when it is in their county. He also makes it a point to visit all of Alabama’s 67 counties, speaking to groups large and small stressing the importance of registering. 

“I think he’s made it easier to register, it’s just a matter of motivation,” McCurley said.

 

Evan Mealins is a reporting intern at the Alabama Political Reporter and student at Auburn University working toward a B.A. in media studies. You can follow him on Twitter @EvanMealins or email him at [email protected]

Advertisement

Courts

U.S. Supreme Court rules Alabama can ban curbside voting

“The District Court’s modest injunction is a reasonable accommodation, given the short time before the election,” the three dissenting justices wrote. 

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

(STOCK PHOTO)

The Supreme Court, in a 5-3 decision, allowed Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill to ban curbside voting, staying a district court injunction that had allowed some counties to offer curbside voting in the Nov. 3 election amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Supreme Court’s majority in its order declined to write an opinion, but Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonya Sotomayor’s five-page dissent is included.

The lawsuit — filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Alabama and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program — was brought on behalf of several older Alabamians with underlying medical conditions.

“The District Court’s modest injunction is a reasonable accommodation, given the short time before the election,” the three dissenting justices wrote. 

Sotomayor, who wrote the dissent, closed using the words of one of the plaintiffs in the case. 

“Plaintiff Howard Porter Jr., a Black man in his seventies with asthma and Parkinson’s disease, told the District Court, ‘[So] many of my [ancestors] even died to vote. And while I don’t mind dying to vote, I think we’re past that – We’re past that time,’” Sotomayor wrote. 

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill on Wednesday applauded the Supreme Court’s decision. 

Public Service Announcement

“I am proud to report the U.S. Supreme Court has now blocked a lower court’s order allowing the fraudulent practice of curbside voting in the State of Alabama,” Merrill said in a statement. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have worked diligently with local election officials in all 67 counties to offer safe and secure voting methods – including through the in-person and mail-in processes. I am glad the Supreme Court has recognized our actions to expand absentee voting, while also maintaining the safeguards put into place by the state Legislature.”

“The fact that we have already shattered voter participation records with the election still being 13 days away is proof that our current voting options are easy, efficient, and accessible for all of Alabama’s voters,” Merrill continued. “Tonight’s ruling in favor of election integrity and security is once again a win for the people of Alabama.”

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, expressed frustration after the ruling in a tweet.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Another devastating loss for voters and a blow for our team fighting to ensure safe voting for Black and disabled voters in Alabama. With no explanation, the SCOTUS allows Alabama to continue making it as hard as possible for COVID-vulnerable voters,” Ifill wrote.

Curbside voting is not explicitly banned by state law in Alabama, but Merrill has argued that because the practice is not addressed in the law, he believes it to be illegal. 

A panel of federal appeals court judges on Oct. 13 reversed parts of U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon’s Sept. 30 order ruling regarding absentee voting in the upcoming Nov. 3 elections, but the judges let the previous ruling allowing curbside voting to stand. 

In his Sept. 30 ruling, Kallon wrote that “the plaintiffs have proved that their fears are justified” and the voting provisions challenged in the lawsuit “unduly burden the fundamental Constitutional rights of Alabama’s most vulnerable voters and violate federal laws designed to protect America’s most marginalized citizens.”

Caren Short, SPLC’s senior staff attorney, in a statement said the Supreme Court’s decision has curtailed the voting rights of vulnerable Alabamians.

“Once again, the Supreme Court’s ‘shadow docket’ – where orders are issued without written explanation – has curtailed the voting rights of vulnerable citizens amidst a once-in-a-century public health crisis. After a two-week trial, a federal judge allowed counties in Alabama to implement curbside voting so that high-risk voters could avoid crowded polling locations,” Short said. “Tonight’s order prevents Alabama counties from even making that decision for themselves. Already common in states across the South and the country before 2020, curbside voting is a practice now encouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It should be a no-brainer to implement everywhere during a pandemic; the Alabama Secretary of State unfortunately disagrees, as does the Supreme Court of the United States.”

Continue Reading

Elections

Congressional candidate James Averhart endorsed by list of U.S. dignitaries, retired military leaders

The 1st Congressional District Democratic candidate has been endorsed by a list of retired U.S. dignitaries and retired military leaders, his campaign said Wednesday. 

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

Congressional candidate James Averhart

James Averhart, the Democratic candidate in Alabama’s 1st Congressional District and a retired U.S. Marine, has been endorsed by a list of retired U.S. dignitaries and retired military leaders, his campaign said Wednesday.

“James Averhart is an integral leader — a man of principles and a patriot. He is the best choice to represent District One on The Hill,” said Ambassador Theodore Britton, a World War II Veteran who was nominated by President Gerald Ford to serve as U.S. ambassador to the island nations of Barbados and Grenada.

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. General Walter E. Gaskin, who served as commanding general of the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, said Averhart is experienced in matters of government and policy and understands the lay of the land in Washington D.C.

“He will be ready to hit the ground running to get things done for the district, and moreover, be that bridge to unite the parties in Congress as well as the nation,” Gaskin said in a statement.

“James Averhart is a strong dynamic leader who will get the job done. He is meticulous and a consummate professional that will advocate and work for all citizens of our district and Alabama,” said Ambassador J. Gary Cooper, a retired Marine Corps major general who was nominated by President George H.W. Bush to serve as assistant secretary of the Air Force, Manpower and Reserve Affairs, and was nominated by President Bill Clinton to serve as U.S. ambassador to Jamaica.

“At a time when it seems that the Republican leadership is in lockstep with a president, who considers those in service to our great nation to be ‘suckers’ and ‘losers,’ is antithetical to what this country needs. We have over 30,000 citizens hospitalized and over 211,000 deaths due to coronavirus, which could have been prevented with sound, methodical leadership. We have been disappointed by this President and the Republican leadership standing with him. It is time for substantive change in our Nation’s Capital,” Averhart said.

“The American citizenry deserves and expects more of its leadership. We should no longer settle for those who continue to promulgate untruths and spew divisive rhetoric. We deserve leadership who will extol the truth and hold in high regard a united nation,” Averhart said.

Public Service Announcement

Avergart’s Republican opponent in the Nov. 3 election is Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl.

The following are a list of Averhart’s endorsements, according to his campaign:

Ambassador Theodore Britton

  • Nominated by President Gerald Ford to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the island nations of Barbados and Grenada
  • Served as the U.S. Special Representative to West Indian island nations of Antigua, Dominica, St. Christopher, Nevis, Anguilla, St. Vincent, and St. Lucia
ADVERTISEMENT

Ambassador J. Gary Cooper 

  • Vietnam Veteran and Retired U.S. Marine Corps Major General
  • Nominated by President Bill Clinton to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica.
  • Nominated by President George H.W. Bush to serve as Asst Secretary of the Air Force, Manpower and Reserve Affairs.

Lieutenant General Ronald L. Bailey

  • First African American to command the 1st • U.S. Marine Division
  • Served as Deputy Commandant for Plans, Policies and Operations, U.S. Marine Corps.
  • Retired in 2017 following 41 years of service.

Lieutenant General Walter E. Gaskin

  • Served as Commanding General of the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, NC Served as Commanding General, Marine Corps Recruiting Command, Quantico, Virginia
  • Served as Chief of Staff, Naval Striking and Support Forces-Southern Europe
  • Served as Deputy Commanding General, Fleet Marine Forces-Europe in Naples, Italy

Major General Cornell A. Wilson, Jr.

  • Served as Director, Reserve Affairs Division, Manpower and Reserve Affairs – Headquarters, U.S. MArine Corps, Quantico, Virginia.
  • Appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory, NC, to the position of Secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs.

Lieutenant General Willie J. Williams

  • Served as Director of the Marine Corp Staff
  • Retired in 2013 after serving 39 years in the U.S. Marine Corp.

Brigadier General John R. Thomas

  • Served as Director for Command, Control, Communications and Computers, U.S. Marine Corps.
  • Served as Director and Chief Information Officer, U.S. Marine Corp.

Continue Reading

Elections

Adia Winfrey reports from campaigns trail

“We need your help to spread the word and continue reaching out to voters to help Democrats up and down the ticket,” Winfrey said.

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

Congressional candidate Adia Winfrey

The Nov. 3 general election is in less than two weeks, and Democratic congressional candidate Adia Winfrey is reporting back from the campaign trail.

“They say a picture says a thousand words, so I wanted to share a few shots from the campaign trail with you,” Winfrey said in an email to supporters. “We still need your support as we get closer to November 3rd. A poll released yesterday showed Senator Doug Jones with a huge lead among early absentee voters! This lets us know that what Democrats are doing is working, and we’ve got to keep the pressure on. Every day is Election Day!”

“We need your help to spread the word and continue reaching out to voters to help Democrats up and down the ticket,” Winfrey continued. “Make sure you tell your family and friends to get to their local courthouse for in-person absentee voting on any weekday between now and October 29th. Many counties are also hosting Saturday voting on October 24th, so look out for that option as well! Check with seniors in your communities and churches to make sure they’re able to get out to vote safely in this important election.”

Winfrey is running in the 3rd Congressional District as the Democratic nominee. She is challenging incumbent Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, who is seeking a 10th term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

According to NBC News, more than 35 million Americans have already voted early and absentee. This is already more early and absentee votes than were cast in the 2016 election.

The Alabama Democratic Party said in a statement, “We’re only two weeks out from Election Day! We are proud of everything we have accomplished so far. From rebuilding of party to successfully pressuring counties into offering Saturday voting, we have already made history this fall!”

“We are going to spend the rest of this week pressuring other counties to offer their voters this same opportunity,” the ADP continued. “But we need your help. We’ve reached out to over 3 million Democrats across Alabama. We have prioritized reaching out to voters who traditionally never hear from us. Now, it’s time to put our GOTV plan into action.”

Public Service Announcement

Winfrey is a psychologist and native of Talladega. Winfrey has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wilberforce University and a doctorate of clinical psychology degree from the Wright State University School of Professional Psychology. She is the founder of the H.Y.P.E. (Healing Young People Through Empowerment) movement.

Election day is Nov. 3.

Continue Reading

Elections

Coalition of attorneys general file opposition to Alabama attempt to ban curbside voting

The AGs argue that Alabama’s suggestion to the courts that curbside voting invites fraud is “unfounded.” 

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

(STOCK PHOTO)

A coalition of 17 state attorneys general have filed an opposition to Alabama’s attempt to get the U.S. Supreme Court to ban curbside voting. 

In a friend-of-the-court brief, led by District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, the attorneys general argue to that curbside voting is safer for those at greatest risk from COVID-19, and that a ban on the practice would disproportionately impact the elderly, the disabled and Black Alabamians.

They also argue that Alabama’s suggestion to the courts that curbside voting invites fraud is “unfounded.” 

“The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, established by President Trump following the 2016 election, ‘uncovered no evidence to support claims of widespread voter fraud,’” the brief states, adding that there is no evidence that curbside voting in the many states that allow it invites fraud. 

“The practice is longstanding and widespread—as noted, more than half of states have historically offered curbside voting in some form,” the brief continues. 

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Oct. 13 said the state will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court a federal appeals court ruling allowing curbside voting in the Nov. 3 election. 

A panel of federal appeals court judges on Oct. 13 reversed parts of U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon’s Sept. 30 ordered ruling regarding absentee voting in the upcoming Nov. 3 elections, but the judges let the previous ruling allowing curbside voting to stand. 

Public Service Announcement

The lawsuit, filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Alabama and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, was brought on behalf of several Alabamians with underlying medical conditions. 

“Curbside voting is a longstanding, secure voting option that local jurisdictions have made available to protect the health of vulnerable voters, including elderly, disabled, and voters with underlying health issues,” Racine said in a statement. “Curbside voting minimizes the risk to persons who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19, and local jurisdictions should be able to offer this common-sense accommodation to voters. State Attorneys General will keep fighting to ensure that voters can safely make their voices heard at the ballot box this November.”

The brief filed by the coalition of state attorneys general comes as the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations across Alabama has been ticking upward.

ADVERTISEMENT

Racine is joined in the brief by attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement