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.
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.
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.
NRSC congratulates Tuberville on winning runoff
The chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Indiana Sen. Todd Young, released a statement Tuesday congratulating Tommy Tuberville on his primary victory in Alabama.
“As a true political outsider, Tommy Tuberville has what it takes to stand up for the people of Alabama, conservative values and President Trump – and most importantly, defeat Doug Jones,” Young said. “I look forward to another victory for Tuberville in November and working with him to build on President Trump’s and our Republican Senate Majority’s record of accomplishment.”
Tuberville won the Republican primary runoff with 61 percent of the vote. His opponent, Former Attorney General and Sen. Jeff Sessions, received 39 percent.
Sessions was the first senator to endorse Donald Trump for president, served as Trump’s attorney general for almost two years and was an important campaign surrogate for Trump during the 2016 presidential election. But the rift that developed between the two former political allies grew so large that the president called appointing Sessions as AG his “biggest mistake” as president.
Trump endorsed Tuberville and actively campaigned for Tuberville and against Sessions.
“Tommy Tuberville WON big against Jeff Sessions,” Trump said on Twitter. “Will be a GREAT Senator for the incredible people of Alabama. @DougJones is a terrible Senator who is just a Super Liberal puppet for Schumer & Pelosi. Represents Alabama poorly. On to November 3rd.”
The president is seeking re-election himself this year, and he will lead the Nov. 3 general election ticket for the GOP.
During his victory speech, Tuberville said that Trump called to congratulate him. Tuberville called Trump, “the greatest president of my lifetime.”
Club for Growth PAC was an early endorser of Tuberville and contributed heavily to his election effort. President David McIntosh issued a statement congratulating Tuberville on winning the runoff.
“Coach Tommy Tuberville is a principled, pro-growth conservative, and well positioned to defeat liberal Democrat Sen. Doug Jones in the General Election,” McIntosh said.
Club for Growth PAC also backed former State Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise, in his bid to be the GOP nominee in the 2nd Congressional District. Moore won his race, beating Jeff Coleman.
Club for Growth Action spent $1,433,763 on the race, and Club for Growth members contributed $132,932 directly to Tuberville’s campaign through the Club for Growth PAC.
Club for Growth Action announced that it will launch a new TV ad, “American Green,” on July 15, highlighting Jones’ “support for the Export-Import Bank and the billions in taxpayer funded loans that went to communist China.”
Former State Rep. Perry Hooper Jr., R-Montgomery, is a member of the Alabama Republican Executive Committee and Trump’s National Finance Committee.
“This is a huge win for the President,” Hooper said. “This shows that the people of Alabama are fully behind the president.”
Hooper said that he likes Jeff Sessions, but that Sessions should not have gotten into this race at the last possible moment and months after Tuberville and the other candidates had been out of the road campaigning.
“I honestly believe he will do everything in his power to defeat Doug Jones in November,” Hooper said. “Coach Tuberville campaigned on his genuine support for President Trump and his Agenda and his desire to do what’s best for the people of Alabama. His sincerity came through as led the ticket in March.”
Hooper formally endorsed Tuberville in the days before the runoff election.
Sessions actually received 9,154 votes fewer in the runoff than he did back in March, while Tuberville gained 96,069 votes. 711,809 voted in the Republican primary while 549,721 voted in Tuesday’s primary runoff – a decrease of 162,080 from March.
Part of that drop was due to a lack of competitive local races in many precincts, people traveling on summer holiday and no presidential politics to bring people to the polls — but part of it was also likely due to COVID-19 fears. The runoff had been scheduled for March 31, but it was delayed in hopes that the coronavirus global pandemic would have lessened.
It actually has gotten much worse.
Tuberville faces incumbent Sen. Doug Jones in the Nov. 3 general election.
Jones urges voters to select him over Tuberville
“The choice before the voters is an unprepared hyper-partisan that will add to the divide in Washington, or my proven track-record to find common ground and get things done,” Jones said.
Incumbent U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, urged Alabama voters to re-elect him after Republican primary voters selected former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville to be their Senate nominee heading toward the November general election.
“When I was elected, I promised the people of Alabama that I would put their interests first to find common ground and get things done for our state,” Jones said in a statement. “Washington already has plenty of people who fight along partisan lines and nothing much seems to get done.”
“I’ve passed seventeen bipartisan bills signed into law by President Trump and was honored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce three times for my record of bipartisanship, leadership and pro-business support,” Jones continued. “Working across the aisle, we repealed the tax on Gold Star widows after more than twenty years of partisan bickering kept thousands of families from earning the benefits they were promised. We secured relief for farmers in the Wiregrass hit hard by hurricanes and tornadoes. We’re investing in rural hospitals that, without Medicaid expansion, continue to struggle despite their importance to many Alabama communities. I will always protect health care for our seniors and people with pre-existing conditions.”
“That’s the record I will present to the people of Alabama at a time when our country and our state face multiple crises,” Jones claimed. “We are not out of the woods yet but every step of the way I will have your back and no one else’s. The choice before the voters is an unprepared hyper-partisan that will add to the divide in Washington, or my proven track-record to find common ground and get things done. We can choose One Alabama and continue to move Alabama forward together and work for better health care, support our veterans, and bring back jobs from overseas.”
The Alabama Democratic Party, which has been torn by internal strife for years but recently came under new leadership after the former chair was removed from her post, is promising to marshal their resources to re-elect Jones.
“Tommy Tuberville just won the Republican runoff to take on Doug Jones this fall,” the ADP said in a statement. “Help us welcome him to the race like Nick Saban (not Lou, Mr. President) did in his last Iron Bowl.”
Democrats are trying to convince volunteers and donors that the Senate rate is winnable.
“Doug Jones is tied 46-46,” the ADP claimed. “Let’s help him win. Pitch in and help us beat Tommy Tuberville, the guy who said he “wouldn’t have a clue” how to deal with the Coronavirus. Want a Senator who’s actually had an original thought to bring people together and get things done? Then Doug Jones is your Senator. Help us re-elect him now.”
The ADP is citing a recent poll showing Tuberville leading Jones 47 to 43. The same internal polling showed Jones pulling even if there is heavy Black turnout and over 90 percent of Black voters break to Jones on election day.
The former college football coach took time in his victory speech to address his general election opponent.
“Democrat Doug Jones is running for reelection with the slogan of One Alabama,” Tuberville said. “Well, you can make no mistake about it: what Doug really means is One Liberal Alabama.”
Tuberville accused Jones of taking “marching orders from Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and bartender AOC,” and criticized Jones for voting against the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh and to “impeach Trump.”
Technically Senators do not vote to impeach or not to impeach. That is a matter for the House of Representatives, of which Jones is not a member. The Senators vote, after a president has been impeached by the House, on whether to convict or not to convict. Jones voted to convict Trump on two articles of impeachment brought by the House.
Tuberville won the Republican primary runoff with 61 percent of the vote, besting former U.S. Attorney General and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who received 39 percent.
Legendary Democratic strategist James Carville has called the Tuberville and Jones race “a tossup.”
Jones is the only Democrat to win any statewide political race since 2008. Jones beat former Chief Justice Roy Moore in a 2017 special election to fill the vacancy created when Trump appointed Sessions as attorney general.
Mark Gidley announces run for Rep. Becky Nordgren’s House seat
Republican voters in Etowah County went to the polls and elected State Rep. Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden, as their nominee for revenue commissioner, defeating Jeff Overstreet in the Republican primary runoff.
No Democrat qualified for the seat, so Nordgren will likely be the commissioner once the current commissioner’s term runs out. At that time, the governor will call a special election to fill Nordgren’s soon-to-be vacant House seat.
Mark Gidley has announced that he will seek the Republican nomination for State House District 29.
“I have a strong desire to continue to promote pro-life, pro-family, and strong conservative values in Montgomery as the Representative for the people of District 29,” Gidley said. “I have been a member of the pro-life community for many years, serving as a board member for the Etowah County Pregnancy Center, and I will fight in Montgomery to continue to make Alabama a Pro-Life State. I believe in family values, and the traditional family created in the image of God. I will fight for these values as a Representative in the Alabama House”.
Mark Gidley is a lifelong resident of Etowah County and is heavily involved in his community. Gidley is the pastor of the Faith Worship Center Church of God in Glencoe.
Gidley says that it is his desire to serve this community and the area of District 29 with bold and conservative leadership.
Mark is married to the former Kathy Chapman of Hokes Bluff. They have two daughters and four grandchildren. Mark is a member of the Executive Committee of the Etowah County Republican Party.
Kellum holds onto Court of Criminal Court of Appeals seat
While there is still a general election on Nov. 3, Tuesday’s victory effectively re-elected Kellum to her third term as no Democrat or independent qualified to run for the race.
Incumbent Alabama’s Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Beth Kellum won the Republican primary for her seat on the court, likely assuring that she will return to the court after the general election.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting unofficial results, Beth Kellum had 56 percent while challenger Will Smith received 44 percent.
“Thank you to everyone who made the effort to vote in today’s “pandemic election,“ Kellum said in a statement. “It has been one of the great honors of my life to represent you on the Court of Criminal Appeals for the past 12 years. It was a hard fought race, and I am thankful for the people of Alabama and for the trust you put in me to serve the great State of Alabama. I look forward to serving you for another six years!”
Smith conceded the race in a statement.
“This Sunday, one of the hymns we sang in church was Have Faith In God. The chorus of the song has played in my mind ever since. So first and foremost, I want to thank God for giving me faith and provision along the way of this campaign journey,” Smith said. “I want to thank the Republican voters who braved the unusual circumstances of this time to vote for me today. These conservative grassroots supporters have supported my campaign, defended my character and championed our sacred beliefs of faith and family and our American ideals of liberty, freedom and constitutional government.”
“I am forever grateful to my wife, Laura,” Smith continued. “She has been my rock and encourager. She has always been so supportive and understanding throughout the demands of this campaign journey. I love her and I am blessed to have her as my wife.”
“I enjoyed traveling to the four corners of our great state and meeting so many of her wonderful people,” Smith added. “This race was one of grassroots conservatives against the big money interests of Montgomery which contributed over $80,000 to the incumbent. The results of the March 3rd Republican Primary showed me trailing the two-term incumbent by a margin of 43% to 37%. It was amazing we were within 6 percentage points of the two-term incumbent despite being outspent over 15 to 1 during the primary. Today, the voters spoke and re-elected the incumbent to her third term. I congratulate Judge Kellum on her victory tonight.”
Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan issued a statement following Kellum’s win for the GOP nomination for the Alabama Criminal Court of Appeals.
“While we had two exceptional candidates for the Criminal Court of Appeals, Alabama Republican voters have selected a highly qualified legal mind to be their nominee for the Alabama Criminal Court of Appeals,” Lathan said. “Beth Kellum has proven herself to a be a strong judge during her previous two terms on the bench. Combined with her extensive legal career, we are confident Judge Kellum will win re-election and return to this seat on November 3rd. We look forward to her continued service with the upmost integrity and seriousness she has shown Alabama as a judge.”
“We extend our gratitude to Will Smith for his willingness to serve — not just in this position but in his previous post as a Lauderdale County Commissioner,” Lathan added. “He is a great example of a true statesman.”
Kellum is an Alabama native who grew up in Vance in Tuscaloosa County. She graduated from Brookwood High School in 1977. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama and a law degree from the University of Alabama School of Law.
Kellum was hired in 1985 by Attorney General Charles Graddick as an assistant attorney general. She worked in the criminal appeals division where she primarily prosecuted appeals before the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court.
She later worked as a staff attorney for the Court of Criminal Appeals from 1987 until 1990. Kellum went into private practice with the Montgomery law firm of Robison & Belser, P.A., working on a wide variety of civil and criminal cases in state and federal courts.
In 1997, she went back to the Court of Criminal Appeals to work as a senior staff attorney for the newly-elected Judge Jean Brown. She worked as a senior staff attorney for the Alabama Supreme Court from 1999 until 2001, before returning to the Court of Criminal Appeals as the senior staff attorney for then newly-elected Judge Kelli Wise.
Kellum was elected to the Court of Criminal Appeals in November 2008 and was re-elected in 2014. While there is still a general election on Nov. 3, Tuesday’s victory effectively re-elected Kellum to her third term as no Democrat or independent qualified to run for the race.
Alabama is one of the few states to elect its judges in partisan elections.