Connect with us

Elections

Alarms raised over county registrars

Bill Britt

Published

on

In a time when election security is a topic of hot debate, state policymakers need to carefully examine the role of country registrars according to those who work inside the elections apparatus.

Alarms raised by those who work in voter registration are not over fears of a broad cyberattack leading to a fraudulent election, but that actions within the county board of registrars—where outdated laws give its members expansive autonomous power—are endangering voting rights and wasting taxpayer dollars

This is not to suggest that all registrars are doing an inferior job or are purposefully misusing their office; however, institutional failings inherent in the antiquated statutes opens a wide door for potential abuse.

The State spends around $4,000,000 annually on registrars pay, travel expenses and voter registration initiatives.

Each of Alabama’s 67 county by-laws has a board of registrars generally comprised of three appointed individuals.

Registrars verify and approve voters who are then added to the voters’ roles; they also purge those who they deem inactive or otherwise unqualified.

The movie Selma depicts a scene in which President Lyndon B. Johnson is meeting with Alabama Governor George Wallace in the Oval Office during a time when voting rights are being suppressed in the state.

Advertisement

During the meeting, Johnson asks Wallace why he doesn’t just let Blacks vote in the State. Wallace replies, “If I only had that power. That belongs to the county registrars.” Johnson pushes Wallace on his assertion that the registrars have all the power, but Wallace stands his ground, saying, “I don’t have any legal power over county registrars, Mr. President; they have their regulations and they adhere.”

This dramatization is not an exaggeration of facts. Alabama’s country registrars are the first and final authority on who votes and who doesn’t in the State of Alabama.

There remains to this day a suspicion, especially among African-Americans, that there is an effort within the state to engage in voter suppression. In Wilcox County, all three county registrars are white, while the county is predominantly African-American.

Advertisement
Advertisement

For decades, the voting rights of African-Americans and poor whites in Alabama were denied using country registrars as the first line of voter suppression. While The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and subsequent provisions ended blatant discrimination, many concerns remain about how the state carries out voter registration.

While country registrars are no longer free to participate in a wholesale disenfranchisement due to federal laws, they still hold tremendous sway in their counties, often receiving preferential treatment by local legislators and county commissions.

A lack of real oversight has led to a myriad of problems, including disparity of registrars pay, reimbursement for travel expenses, operating outside the opening meetings and more.

While none of the individuals who spoke to APR claim outright voter suppression at the county level, there are many real and perceived opportunities for abuse.

Under state statute, there is a board of registrars in each of the State’s 67 counties, and each board operates with nearly complete autonomy.

“Country registrars have no overlord, no boss and no real direct oversight,” according to one person who works closely with registrars and asks to speak on background because the individual is not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

APR spoke to half a dozen current and former state officials and each says there are inherent and even dangerous flaws in the way the state’s county registrars operate.

County registrars are appointed by the governor, the commissioner of agriculture and industry and the state auditor to four-year terms. But many registrars are appointed numerous times because of the wishes of the county commission or lawmakers in a particular district.

To qualify to serve as a registrar, an individual must be a qualified elector, “residents of the county, shall have a high school diploma or equivalent, and possess the minimum computer and map reading skills necessary to function in the office,” according to Section 17-3-2 of Alabama Code.

These low-skill qualifications are seen as problematic by some who work in the system.

“Some of these people come in not knowing what the job is, they just think it’s a cool part-time gig,” said a state official. “It used to be an easier job, but today it takes real skill and frankly, some just don’t have it.”

Over the years, many registrars have been appointed as a form of political patronage.

“It still happens,” said a county commissioner. “He or she has a buddy on the commission or at the statehouse and they submit their name and nobody questions it.”

A woman who in 2007, was charged with felony voter fraud was recently appointed as a registrar. While the woman, Rosie Lyles, was allowed to plead to a lesser misdemeanor charge in the case, she was still appointed registrar in Hale County because no one ran a simple Google search.

When this issue was raised with the Governor’s office, it was referred to the Secretary of State’s office, which said because the woman was not convicted of a crime of moral turpitude, she was technically still qualified to serve as a registrar.

Registrars can only be removed for cause and that’s a high bar. Only three registrars have been removed over the last 20 years; those removals occurred in Wilcox County, Lawrence County and Russell County under the leadership of Secretary of State John Merrill.

Merrill removes Russell County registrar from office for cause

“They used to just let them get away with whatever,” said a former registrar. “It was too much trouble to remove them so they waited for their term to run out.”

While there are offices that run with peak efficiency, there are still many unqualified registrars, according to individuals APR interviewed.

Updates and Purges

Code of Alabama, Title 17-4-3: allows registrars to purge their computerized voter list continuously and strike a person from the voter list for cause.

17-4-7: charges that the registrars are to update the voter list on a continuous basis and shall meet in January to conduct voter maintenance activities and purge the voter list.

The primary responsibility of a board of registrars is to add and remove voters from the list of voters and this is where there are opportunities for mistakes to open a Pandora’s Box of problems, according to those who work in the system.

“One improper keystroke can place a person in the wrong district,” said a former registrar. “The only way to ensure free and fair elections is if a person is properly placed in the system.”

Other officials share concerns over voter purging. “This is highly skilled clerical work that demands attention to detail,” said a state official.

After a large scale purge, Congressman Mo Brooks, a Republican, and then-State Rep. Patricia Todd, a Democrat, found that they had been marked inactive and stricken from the list. Both were allowed to reenter the system after updating their information according to a report by the New York Times.

There are also concerns that a registrar who uses their state computer for personal pleasure might click on a phishing link or malware that would open the system to hacking.

“Registrars have access to vast information on voters as well as limited access beyond their county which could lead to a hacker being able to see or manipulate the entire state system,” said an individual with direct knowledge of the computer systems. “There are safeguards, but nothing is foolproof.”

Most worry about human error and not cyberattacks, but there are grave concerns that an unqualified or inattentive registrar can do serious harm.

While the Secretary of State says there are no instances of outside manipulation, it remains a possibility.

Work Day and Pay

The Code of Alabama, Title 17-3-8 outlines: sessions of the Board, working days, and special registration days.

Under State, law registrars are paid $80.00 a day and the county commission can augment that pay. While some registrars only receive their state allotment, others earn nearly double that amount.

State law doesn’t clearly define what construes a “work day” for registrars. So there are registrars who don’t adhere to an eight-hour workday.

“You can go in for 15 minutes and call it a day,” said a former registrar. “No one’s watching and no one can do anything about it anyway.”

An Attorney General’s opinion states they must work and model their hours after the county, but some registrars ignore this without consequences.

The number of days a registrar can work also varies from county to county, with some working 122 and others being open over 200 days out of the year.

Beyond daily pay, some counties offer other benefits such as in Morgan and Baldwin counties registrars, maybe afforded health insurance, which is often seen as another political perk.

Registrars are considered state employees for tax purposes but again are accountable to no one.

Travel

Former registrars, county commissioners and state employees say that the state pay for registrars’ travel expenses is an area of severe misuse of taxpayer’s funds.

“Under the guise of training registrars are regularly afforded a state-paid vacation at taxpayers expense,” said a state worker.

Title 17-4-35(13), states that the Voter Registration Supervisor under the Secretary of State’s Office is responsible for training the county Boards of Registrars.

In just the last few years, the Secretary of State’s office has offered official training under a contract with Auburn University. These trainings are held regionally once a year and are approved by the State’s official election officer through the Voter Registration Supervisor. However, individual county boards and the Alabama Association of the Boards of Registrars (AABOR) hold other training sessions for which the State reimburses registrars.

They also paid for other meetings of the Board, but much of it falls into a gray area.

There are numerous AG’s opinions that conclude registrars may be paid travel upon attending to the business of the Board. Other opinions find the Association’s meeting is business of the Board, but the Code doesn’t reference this.

For years the Board of Registrars were looked upon as a collective Board across the State for the purposes of paying expenses, but in some instances, each county board is viewed separately, which makes the AG’s opinions challenging to follow.

There was an incident not long ago according to an insider in which one county board of registrars traveled to a neighboring beach community to hold a meeting. “They traveled less than 20 miles from home stayed overnight at a beach resort and the State paid for it,” said a state employee. “Is that right? Is that good stewardship?”

A former state official lamented, “They should follow State travel laws, but they have zero accountability to anyone and no one seems to be bothered by what they do.”

Attempts to curtail travel abuse has been met with resistance from AABOR and certain lawmakers.

Operating without a Quorum

Code of Alabama, Title 17-3-7, states that all business of the Board must be conducted as a quorum: “The action of a majority of the board of registrars shall be the action of the board, and a majority of the board shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of all business.”

The official business of the Board, by statute, must be done by a quorum of the Board. Most have three members, so at least two must be present to handle their official business described in the Code.

The law requires registrars to meet as a quorum to add or take away individuals from the voter list, but this is not how some county boards operate.

“One person will add voters and then another member will sign off on it with having actually verified it,” said an APR source. “The same is true when removing someone. This is not what the laws say, but that’s what they do.”

If registrars are to, in fact, operate as a quorum, their meetings should be subject to the open meetings act according to an APR source.

After extensive interviews with six individuals who have or currently work in voter registration, it becomes clear that state lawmakers need to take a closer look at the laws that govern voting.

Alabama has a long and troubled past regarding voter disenfranchisement. While none of those individuals APR spoke with voiced concerns of blanket suppression, each raised alarms about various aspects of the whole process, especially a lack of oversight of the county registrars who historically where the vanguard in denying voting rights.

Each interviewee confirmed that many county boards carry out their duties professionally, but there is overall anxiety about the lack of standards and accountability.

Advertisement

Courts

Doug Jones praises end of state Democratic Party lawsuit

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, on Thursday applauded the end of a lawsuit over control of the state Democratic party. 

Montgomery County Circuit Judge Greg Griffin on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit filed by former Alabama Democratic Party chairwoman Nancy Worley, which means that state Rep. Chris England, who was picked to lead the state Democratic party by a reform group championed by Jones, is the party’s chair. 

“This is a great day for Alabama and her Democratic Party. Throughout much of last year, countless Democrats in our state worked to create a more open and diverse state party, while recognizing and being true to the crucial and historic role held by African-American voters,” Jones said in a statement Thursday.

“The by-laws of the Alabama Democratic Party now reflect the growing diversity in our state — including representation for Hispanic voters, Native American voters, Asian voters, voters with disabilities and voters from the LGBTQ community. And most importantly, the Alabama Democratic Party has dramatically increased leadership opportunities for young voters. Around 70 new caucus members were added to the state party Executive Committee last year—many of them young people from diverse backgrounds throughout the state. I’m proud to continue to work alongside a more unified, diverse and inclusive state party. 

“With the dismissal of this lawsuit, it is time that all who have been involved in this challenge, resolution, and expansion of the Democratic Party come together for a common good. Our state benefits from the ideas and engagement of a competitive two-party system. We have now demonstrated that we have the ability to be inclusive within our own party while working to expand the number and experiences of people who play a role in moving it forward.  

“Chairman Chris England and First Vice Chair Patricia Todd have my complete support and I call on Democrats throughout the state to unite behind them as we move forward in modernizing, re-invigorating, and expanding the Alabama Democratic Party.,” Jones said.

Advertisement
Continue Reading

Elections

11th-hour smear campaign against Byrne linked to opponent Tuberville, sources say

Bill Britt

Published

on

A story published February 24, on Gateway Pundit alleges, “Bradley Byrne kicked his brother’s widow off her land,” but the land was never owned by Byrne’s sister-in-law.

Whether the reporter at Gateway Pundit didn’t read all the court records or there were other motives, the erroneous accusations on the popular right-wing blog are now being used to smear Byrne in the final hours of a heated U.S. Senate race.

See complete records. 

Political consultants not tied to Byrne’s campaign say that operatives working for his rival, Tommy Tuberville, are promoting the story to damage Byrne. Random text messages are being sent to distribute the story as well as numerous calls to Alabama media outlets to report on the false claims. State political reporters have rejected the story due to its inaccuracies.

Several calls and voice messages to Tuberville’s campaign have gone unanswered.

The land in question was part of the estate of Byrne family matriarch, Elizabeth Patricia Langsdale Byrne.

In her original will signed July 23, 1996, Mrs. Byrne left her property in Baldwin County to her three children, Dale, Bradley and Patricia.

Advertisement

However, on Feb. 25, 1999, she amended her will, removing her eldest son leaving the property to only Bradley and Patricia.

On Dec. 6, 2000, Mrs. Byrne again amended her will, leaving one-third to Bradley, one-third to Patricia and one-third as a “life estate” to Dale. According to the will, the life estate left to Dale would go back to Bradley and Patrica upon Dale’s death because a life estate means ownership of land is only for the duration of a person’s life.

Mrs. Byrne died in 2008; she was followed in death by her son Dale in 2014,  at which time the life estate bequeathed to him expired.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Bradley, who his mother selected as executor of her estate, then filed the necessary paperwork with the Baldwin County probate office to address Dale’s death as stipulated in Mrs. Byrne’s will.

The Gateway Pundit story leaves out crucial details and in its interview with Dale’s fourth wife, Gloria, repeats claims she made that are not grounded in facts.

There is also a false claim that Byrne refused to leave the campaign trial when his brother died, but he did in fact cancel a scheduled event in the family’s time of morning.

The same reporter at Gateway Pundit wrote several stories praising Tuberville and trashing his other primary opponent, Jeff Sessions, calling him a skunk and a snake.

Court records clearly show Byrne acted in accordance with his mother’s wishes as they were detailed in her last will and testament.

 

Continue Reading

Elections

McCutcheon endorses Chris Lewis for Congress

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

Late Thursday night the Chris Lewis for U.S. Congress campaign announced that they were pleased that the Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) has endorsed Lewis in the Fifth Congressional District.

Lewis is challenging conservative incumbent Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville).

Speaker McCutcheon represents House District 25 in Limestone and Madison counties.

“Many people and organizations across North Alabama have discussed with me that it is time to make a change in our Congressional seat,” McCutcheon said in a video that was released on the internet. “Chris has proven his commitment to our Nation through his military service.” “I believe Chris has the heart of a servant leader and would be a fine Congressman for North Alabama.”

Lewis’s campaign says that the endorsement highlights his understanding and commitment to our nation’s defense and advancements in space exploration technology. It follows previous endorsements of Lewis by the: Alabama Farmers Federation Farm PAC (ALFA), Bgen “Smokin” Joseph Stringham USA (ret), Combat Veterans for Congress, Dynetics, Professional Fire Fighters of Alabama, and the Home Builders Association of Alabama.

Lewis is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and the U.S. Naval War College. He retired as a Commander from the United States Navy after 23 years of service. His experience includes multiple combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, service as a strategic analyst for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a decade of defense acquisition experience, and serving as Contract Transition Team Lead for Arnold Engineering Development Complex, Arnold Air Force Base.

Brooks’ outspoken conservative views and his role as a founding member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus has earned him criticism from some Republicans. Brooks has represented the Fifth Congressional District for five terms. He ran for U.S. Senate in the U.S. Senate special election in 2017; but finished third behind former Chief Justice Roy Moore and appointed Senator Luther Strange in the special Republican primary. Brooks was a staunch supporter of Sen. Ted Criz (R-Texas) in the 2016 presidential primary; but has been a strong supporter of Pres. Trump’s agenda in the House and a fierce opponent of efforts by House Democrats to impeach the President.

Advertisement

President Donald J. Trump has endorsed Brooks.

The President said on Twitter: ”@MoInTheHouse Brooks is running for Congress in the Great State of Alabama. He is a huge supporter of the #MAGA Agenda. Mo fully supports Securing our Border w/the WALL, he Loves our Military & Vets, & is Strong on the #2A. Mo has my Complete Endorsement!”

The Fifth Congressional District had been in Democratic hands until Brooks challenged incumbent Congressman Parker Griffith (D-Huntsville) and Griffith responded by switching to the Republican Party. He was defeated by Brooks in the Republican primary in 2010.

Advertisement
Advertisement

The Republican primary is on March 3. This is likely a winner take all primary as no Democrat qualified to run in the Fifth Congressional District.

Continue Reading

Elections

Litaker challenges opponent to pledge to not run for another office in 2022

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

Thursday, candidate for President of the Alabama Public Service Commission Dr. Robin Litaker (R) pledged not to run as a candidate for another office while she is PSC President and challenged her opponent, incumbent Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh (R) to make the same pledge.

“When I announced my candidacy for the President of the Alabama Public Service Commission, it was because I recognized the need for true leadership at the PSC; leadership my opponent fails to deliver,” Litaker said. “I know that a person who holds public office must be someone who puts the people above self-preservation.”

Cavanaugh ran for Lt. Governor in 2018, narrowly losing the Republican primary to State Representative Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville).

“The President of the PSC must not be someone who is thinking only of the next political office for which they will be a candidate,” Litaker added. “Today, I am announcing my promise to the people of Alabama that I will not seek another elective office during my first term as the President of the Alabama Public Service Commission. Let me be specific, after I am elected in 2020, I will not run for another political office in 2022. I will work full-time for you and you alone. I challenge my opponent to make the same promise to the people of Alabama. This she will not do because she knows that she never stops thinking about the next office for which she will run.”

“Two years ago, I sought to be a member of the PSC,” Litaker said. “Two years ago, my opponent sought two statewide offices. For a while she ran for governor. Then, when she realized that she couldn’t win that race, she ran for lieutenant governor. Running for office is the only job to which she is fully committed. The president of the PSC must work each day to ensure ratepayers are being treated fairly. Protecting consumers is supposed to be the chief responsibility of the PSC president, not overcharging them in order to score political points. The ratepayers of Alabama deserve a full-time President of the Public Service Commission, not a full-time candidate.”

Litaker is a retired educator with over 32 years of experience in the public school system of Alabama both as a teacher and administrator. She spent 25 years of that time in the classroom working with students both in the Mobile County Public School System and the Hoover City School System.

Litaker has served on numerous state, regional and national boards. She has been president and executive director of several state education associations. Robin has experience working with the public, legislators, governors and business leaders. After retirement Robin attended the Birmingham School of Law. She works for an educational software company.

Advertisement

Litaker says that she is a devout Christian who believes that God’s calling for her has been to serve people. She says that she now wants to focus on helping all citizens of Alabama by being your next Public Service Commissioner.

Cavanaugh has worked at the Republican National Committee, served a Co-Chief of Staff for Alabama Governor Bob Riley (R), and as the first woman in Alabama history to Chair a major state political party. In 2008 Cavanaugh ran for PSC President against former Lt. Governor Lucy Baxley. She narrowly lost that race. In 2010 she was elected to the PSC as a commissioner. In 2012 she defeated Baxley, then the incumbent. In 2016 Cavanaugh was re-elected. The PSC does not have term limits like other constitutional offices in Alabama.

The Republican primary is on March 3.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Authors

Advertisement

The V Podcast

Facebook

Trending

.