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Opinion | Rebuttal on the ballot access requirements

Laura Lane

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On January 3rd, Alabama Political Reporter, published Joey Kennedy’s scathing analysis of the political process in Alabama.   He challenged both the Secretary of State and Alabama’s Legislature to open the election process to benefit citizens by having a more diverse selection of candidates on their ballot.

In a private conversation with a local political activist, Kennedy shared that he has been writing about ballot access for most of his 30-plus years as an opinion writer.  Kennedy mentioned that Alabama is listed as the “No.1 hardest state” for ballot access for third party and independent candidates, according to FairVote.org.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill penned a rebuttal to this piece which was posted on the sos.alabama.gov website  on January 6th.

Merrill’s statement that the SoS website has an abundance of “how to” topics, an updated petition form, and a video for independent and third-party candidates is not disputable.  However, none of this addresses the main point – of minor parties and independent candidates being discriminated against by the State in the form of denying ballot access through the requirements of extremely high petition signature numbers and retention votes to stay on the ballot, as well as (what could be an) extremely high cost to purchase the voter registration list for the campaign – something vital to these candidates in order to obtain the petition signatures and retention votes.

It also ignores the fact that the Republican and Democrat duopoly control ballot access in Alabama – not the voters.

Merrill also states in his piece that candidates not being able to attain those numbers are not viable candidates.  Not only is that insulting, but just who are Merrill, and the Legislature for that matter, to determine who the VOTERS get to vote on? Alabama voters should get to determine at the polls who is a “viable” candidate.

According to a noted ballot access expert, Richard Winger of Ballot Access News, the FACTS are that before 1971, minor parties could be on the ballot in Alabama just by notifying the Secretary of State of their existence and the names of their convention nominees.  There was no petition signature requirement at all. 

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In 1971, the Legislature required new parties to submit 5,000 signatures, but old parties continued to be on the ballot with no vote test.  Once a party submitted its 5,000 signatures, it was on forever.  The Libertarian Party of Alabama submitted 5,000 signatures in 1976 and that was enough for permanent ballot access evermore.

In 1977, the Legislature passed a bill that accidentally erased the 5,000 signature requirement.  So just about every minor party in the U.S. easily got on in 1980.  There were 9 parties, including the Socialist Workers Party.

In 1982, the Legislature restored the party petition, but they made it 1 percent of the last gubernatorial vote.  Far worse, they said a party needed 20 percent of the vote to stay on the ballot.  The 20 percent had always been in the law, but it was originally just to differentiate parties that got a primary, versus parties that nominated at their own expense by convention.  It was not a vote test to remain on the ballot, until 1982.

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The U.S. Justice Department, Voting Rights Section, granted an injunction and wouldn’t let Alabama impose the new 1 percent petition and 20 percent vote test before the 1982 election, because it would have injured an African-American qualified party called the National Democratic Party, but the new law did take effect in 1983.

In 1994, the Patriot Party elected a sore loser to a county commission seat.  He had lost the Democratic primary, but got elected as the Patriot Party nominee.  This angered the Democrats in the legislature, so in 1995 they increased the 1 percent petition to 5 percent. The Governor promised to veto it, but went back on his word and signed it; however, he amended it to 3 percent.

For several years, Senator Cam Ward (R), Dist 14, has sponsored legislation to reduce the petition signature requirement and retention vote percentages.  The bill made it out of the Senate and House Committees, but was never added to the calendar for the entire body to vote on.

The facts remain that Alabama’s ballot access laws for any group to obtain and keep “political party” status” are the most difficult in the United States.  No other state’s vote test is above 10 percent.

Forty states have at least one other political party on the ballot other than the Democratic and Republican parties.

Alabama and Oklahoma are tied for the highest petition signature requirement at 3 percent.  Only Tennessee comes close with a 2.5 percent requirement.

With the exception of Alabama, EVERY state has had at least on minor party candidate on the ballot for statewide office – with their party label – from 2014 to the present.  Alabama has not had a minor party candidate on the ballot for a statewide office – WITH their party label – since 2002 and it was a Libertarian Party candidate.

It is well past time that Alabama end its discriminatory and classist partisan practices.  Let the voters decide.

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Opinion | Amendment 4 is an opportunity to clean up the Alabama Constitution

Gerald Johnson and John Cochran

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The 1901 but current Alabama Constitution has been amended about 950 times, making it by far the world’s longest constitution. The amendments have riddled the Constitution with redundancies while maintaining language and provisions — for example, poll taxes — that reflect the racist intent of those who originally wrote it.

A recompilation will bring order to the amendments and remove obsolete language. While much of this language is no longer valid, the language is still in the document and has been noted and used by other states when competing with Alabama for economic growth opportunities.

The need for recompilation and cleaning of Alabama’s Constitution has been long recognized.

In 2019, the Legislature unanimously adopted legislation, Amendment 4, to provide for its recompilation. Amendment 4 on the Nov. 3 general election ballot will allow the non-partisan Legislative Reference Service to draft a recompiled and cleaned version of the Constitution for submission to the Legislature.

While Amendment 4 prohibits any substantive changes in the Constitution, the LRS will remove duplication, delete no longer legal provisions and racist language, thereby making our Constitution far more easily understood by all Alabama citizens.

Upon approval by the Legislature, the recompiled Constitution will be presented to Alabama voters in November 2022 for ratification.

Amendment 4 authorizes a non-partisan, broadly supported, non-controversial recompilation and much-needed, overdue cleaning up of our Constitution.

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On Nov. 3, 2020, vote “Yes” on Amendment 4 so the work can begin.

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Opinion | Auburn Student Center named for Harold Melton, first Auburn SGA president of color

Elizabeth Huntley and James Pratt

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Auburn University's Student Center (VIA AUBURN UNIVERSITY)

The year 1987 was a quiet one for elections across America but not at Auburn. That was the year Harold Melton, a student in international studies and Spanish, launched and won a campaign to become the first African American president of the Auburn Student Government Association, winning with more than 65 percent of the vote.

This was just the first of many important roles Harold Melton would play at Auburn and in an extraordinarily successful legal career in his home state of Georgia, where his colleagues on the Georgia Supreme Court elected him as chief justice.

Last week, the Auburn Board of Trustees unanimously named the Auburn student center for Justice Melton, the first building on campus that honors a person of color. The decision was reached as part of a larger effort to demonstrate Auburn’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

In June, Auburn named two task forces to study diversity and inclusion issues. We co-chair the task force for the Auburn Board with our work taking place concurrently with that of a campus-based task force organized by President Jay Gogue. Other members of the Board task force are retired Army general Lloyd Austin, bank president Bob Dumas, former principal and educator Sarah B. Newton and Alabama Power executive Quentin P. Riggins.

These groups are embarking on a process that offers all Auburn stakeholders a voice, seeking input from students, faculty, staff, alumni, elected officials and more. It will include a fact-based review of Auburn’s past and present, and we will provide specific recommendations for the future.

We are committed to making real progress based on solid facts. Unlike other universities in the state, Auburn has a presence in all 67 counties through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Our review has included not only our campuses in Auburn and Montgomery but all properties across our state. To date, we have found no monuments or statues recognizing the history that has divided our country. We will continue our fact-finding mission with input from the academic and research community.

Our university and leadership are committed to doing the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time. We believe now is the right time, and we are already seeing results.

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In addition to naming the student center for the Honorable Harold Melton, we have taken steps to highlight the significant role played by Harold Franklin, the student who integrated Auburn. We are working to enhance the historical marker that pays tribute to Mr. Franklin, and we are raising its visibility in campus tours as we pay homage to his contributions as our first African American student. Last month, we awarded Mr. Franklin, now 86 and with a Ph.D., a long-overdue master’s degree for the studies he completed at Auburn so many years ago.

We likewise endorsed a student-led initiative creating the National Pan-Hellenic Council Legacy Plaza, which will recognize the contributions of Black Greek organizations and African American culture on our campus.

In the coming months, Auburn men and women will work together to promote inclusion to further enhance our student experience and build on our strength through diversity. The results of this work will be seen and felt throughout the institution in how we recruit our students, provide scholarships and other financial support and ensure a culture of inclusion in all walks of university life.

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Our goal is to identify and implement substantive steps that will make a real difference at Auburn, impact our communities and stand the test of time.

Naming the student center for Justice Melton is but one example. In response to this decision, he said, “Auburn University has already given me everything I ever could have hoped for in a university and more. This honor is beyond my furthest imagination.”

Our job as leaders at Auburn is more than honoring the Harold Meltons and Harold Franklins who played a significant role in the history of our university. It is also to create an inclusive environment that serves our student body and to establish a lasting legacy where all members of the Auburn Family reach their fullest potential in their careers and in life.

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Opinion | Alabama lags behind the nation in Census participation with deadline nearing

Paul DeMarco

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The United States Census is starting to wind down around the country with a Sept. 30 deadline for the national population to be completed. However, a United States District Court has recently ruled that the date may be extended another 30 days to allow more time for the census to take place.

Regardless of the deadline, Alabama has work to do when it comes to the census.

To date, the national average for participation around the country has been almost 65 percent for the census.

Unfortunately, Alabama residents are providing data to the census at a lower percentage, around some 61 percent of the state population.

There is already concern among state leaders that if that number does not reach above 70 percent, then the state will lose a seat in Congress, a vote in the electoral college and millions of federal dollars that come to the state every year.

The percentage of participation has varied widely around the state, from a high of 76 percent in Shelby County to a low of 36 percent in neighboring Coosa County.

State leaders are making a final push to request Alabama residents fill out the census in the last month before it is closed.

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We will find out later this fall if Alabama passes the national average of participation in the census compared to other states to retain both its future representation and share of federal dollars.

In the meantime, Alabamians need to fill out their census forms.

The state is depending on it.

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Opinion | This Labor Day let’s honor Alabama’s workers

Bren Riley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

In July, the Southwest Alabama Labor Council made the tough decision to cancel what was going to be our 75th annual Labor Day Parade in Mobile in order to ensure the safety of our affiliates, members, and the general public.

Needless to say, I’m crushed. Each year, there’s nothing I look forward to more than gathering with union members far and wide to celebrate Alabama’s union members. After all we have been through in 2020, no one deserves a day of love and celebration more than our workers.

For many of us, Labor Day represents a day off to enjoy our last day of summer. But Labor Labor Day is so much more than just picnics and gearing up to go back to school—it is a day to honor America’s working people. In the face of this unprecedented pandemic, it’s important now more than ever to support Alabama’s workers first.

Unfortunately, Alabama was ranked the worst state in the country to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. When I first read this, I was heartbroken. Then I got angry.

The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted challenges that have always faced Alabama’s working people. Inequality. Poor working conditions. No mandated sick or family leave. For decades, Alabama’s labor movement has fought tooth and nail for these sorts of protections, only to be pushed back by members in Congress who want nothing more than to destroy unions at the expense of our working people.

In Steve Flowers’ Sept. 3 column, Flowers points out how different things were in Alabama not too long ago. From 1946-66, “Alabama was the most unionized state in the South by far. In fact, every major employer in the State of Alabama was a union shop.”

Ordinarily, I’d feel crushed reading such a statement. But like my anger mentioned earlier, this time around, I’m determined.

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This Labor Day, we have a chance to build back the power of the labor movement in our state by gearing up for what could be the most important elections in Alabama’s modern history.

At the forefront, we have the opportunity to elect Joe Biden as the President of the United States, thereby ending the most virulently anti-labor administration we have seen in the last century.

And here in Alabama, we all-in for the fight to re-elect Senator Doug Jones. Sen. Jones has been nothing but an ally to our working people, especially in pushing his Senate colleagues to take up HEROES Act — a comprehensive COVID-19 relief bill currently sitting untouched in Mitch McConnell’s lap.

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In total, the Alabama AFL-CIO has endorsed ten candidates running for office in 2020. By electing politicians who will fight for America’s working class and uplift the labor movement, we can keep making real progress in the fight for a fair economy and a just society.

This Labor Day, whether it’s time to head in after a socially-distanced gathering with loved ones or a Zoom call with friends, take the time to reflect on why we get to celebrate this holiday.  Labor unions bring the freedom to balance life and work — the freedom in knowing that one job is enough, that you can be with a sick child or parent without losing your job, that you can report hazards without being fired. This Labor Day, let’s get fired up for a better Alabama.

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