Yesterday morning, Secretary of State John H. Merrill issued the following response to a recent opinion column written by Joey Kennedy of Alabama Political Reporter:
Last Friday, Joey Kennedy of Alabama Political Reporter falsely asserted that the Office of the Secretary of State has suppressed ballot access to candidates who are not members of the Democratic or Republican parties.
In actuality, we have worked to make ballot access for Independent candidates easier than ever. On our website, we have broken down the requirements to gain ballot access by federal and state district office, statewide office, and countywide and county district offices.
Our office has further worked to ensure that all potential candidates are as informed as possible through the creation of a PowerPoint fully explaining how a candidate may obtain ballot access, as well as the deadlines to qualify for the 2020 election cycle.
We have even gone as far as updating the ballot access petition so that the information provided by potential candidates is more legible and likely to be validated.
Neither members of the legislature nor I have found the requiring of signatures for Independent candidates to gain ballot access to be unreasonable. For example, if a candidate is unable to obtain 559 signatures for a County Commission seat in Tallapoosa County, is that person truly a viable candidate? If a candidate is unable to obtain 2,318 signatures in Montgomery County for the position of Sheriff, is that person capable of being elected? Furthermore, if a candidate is unable to obtain 134 signatures in Cleburne County for the position of School Board Superintendent, is that person really electable?
Do these numbers seem unreasonable to you?
Mr. Kennedy went on to falsely quote FairVote, claiming that ‘A new party, or statewide independent candidate (for all offices except president) needs a petition of 3 percent of the last gubernatorial vote. No one has managed to complete this petition [in Alabama] since it came into existence in 1997 except for the Libertarians in 2000.’
Since 2004, our office alone has certified approximately 65 Independent or third-party candidates, all of which can be tracked on the website of the Office of the Secretary of State. This number does not include the number of countywide and county district office candidates that have been certified in the respective county probate office.
Kennedy also failed to mention that there is no qualifying fee for candidates who choose to run independently, contrary to how other candidates qualify with the state parties.
He then made the assumption that straight-ticket voting encourages laziness among voters who do not have to research every candidate that will appear on the ballot.
Voters in Alabama have the opportunity to see every name that will appear on the ballot through visiting the Secretary of State’s website and viewing a sample ballot for the upcoming election. Our office has worked to promote this information in recent years to ensure Alabamians are fully aware of which candidates will be on the ballot.
Additionally, Alabama voters should have the freedom to vote however they please. If someone has a problem with straight-ticket voting, that person should reach out to the state parties about changing the law through the legislature.
As we have witnessed in years past, straight-ticket voting has only been problematic to the minority party. When the legislature was controlled by Democrats, Republicans asked for voters to vote for individual candidates as opposed to a straight-ticket. Now that the legislature is controlled by Republicans, some Democrats are asking voters not to vote straight-ticket.
It should also be noted that Alabama state law actually allows for independent candidate selection on General Election ballots even if the ballot has been marked as a straight-ticket ballot. After a voter marks “straight-ticket” selections are overridden when that person votes for a candidate of the opposite party or for a candidate without party affiliation.