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States must act to secure safe elections amid COVID-19 crisis, report finds

Eddie Burkhalter

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The spread of COVID-19 continues filling up intensive care beds and breaking records nearly daily, and as elections in Alabama near, the need to protect the state’s voting system is even more critical, according to a recent study. 

The Brennan Center for Justice, a law and public policy institute at the New York University Law School, published a report in May that details how states can ensure fair and safe elections during the COVID-19 outbreak, and it lays out a timeline that must be met if we’re to get the work done in time for polls to open. 

“The country is under a lot of stress right now, and elections are central to making sure that people have a voice in a democratic process,” said Lawrence Norden, director of the Election Reform Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, speaking to APR on Wednesday. 

Norden said that Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill did well in using federal COVID-19 relief money to bolster poll workers’ pay, but said more can be done to ensure Alabamians can vote safely. 

Many voters in Georgia’s June 9 primary found themselves stuck in long lines, limiting voting access due to a consolidation of polling stations, unfamiliarity with new machines and last-minute cancellations of poll workers afraid to expose themselves to the deadly virus. 

“And that created even more problems with poll workers because it’s understandable poll workers would be scared,” Norden said, adding that most poll workers are over 60 years of age, who are at greater risk from COVID-19. 

Merrill has directed $6.5 million from the federal coronavirus relief bill and $1.2 in matching state money to boost poll workers’ pay and to reimburse counties for the cost of buying masks, gloves, disinfectant spray, hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes and professional cleaning services to keep polling stations sanitized. 

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Norden said Merrill should consider hiring additional poll workers in the event many decide at the last minute that it’s too risky for them to work. 

The Brennan Center for Justice’s report finds that states that do not have early in-person voting, including Alabama, should implement it as quickly as possible. 

“Ideally, states should offer at least two weeks of early in-person voting, but states should offer a minimum of five days, including at least one Saturday and one Sunday,” the report states, adding that early in-person voting can minimize crowding of polling places. 

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The center’s report also recommends that states would allow all voters the option to cast their ballot by mail, without cost to the voter. 

“It’s become a very common way for people to vote around the country,” Norden said. “About a quarter of votes cast in the last couple of federal elections were by mail, and we’ve developed very good procedures for preventing and detecting fraud.”

On May 24, Merrill tweeted that Alabama would not have direct mail-in voting. 

“Don’t worry @realDonaldTrump, WE WILL NOT have direct mail-in voting in Alabama! We have provided an excuse provision for anyone that wants to vote absentee and our polling sites will be open for anyone that wants to vote in person! Keep working hard to Make America Great Again!” Merrill tweeted. Merrill has also said direct mail-in voting would be too costly and wouldn’t be secure. 

“If there are questions about the security of male voting, there are extra steps that can be taken with that money to give people more confidence in the security of mail voting,” Norden said of the federal coronavirus relief aid. 

Ballot-tracking software allows state election officials to track mailed ballots just as one can track an Amazon package, Norden said, and states can require voters to provide information that only that voter would have, then seal the ballots in secure, sealed secrecy envelopes. Mail-in voting fraud is exceptionally rare, he said. 

“All of those things make it really hard to commit fraud without being caught,” Norden said. “And the truth of the matter is, we can’t have a situation where people are choosing between their health, and sometimes our lives, and voting.” 

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones and U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell have both called for expanding mail-in voting amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Alabama is unlike most other states in that the state legislature would have to make a rule change to allow broader mail-in voting, Norden said, but he added that it’s something voters want. In states that offer it, voters overwhelmingly chose mail-in voting, he said. 

“I hope Alabama gives voters more options,” Norden said. 

A federal judge on Monday lifted a statewide ban on curbside voting in Alabama and waived certain absentee ballot requirements for voters in at least Jefferson, Mobile, and Lee Counties. 

U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon approved in part a preliminary injunction filed by the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program against Gov. Kay Ivey and Merrill. 

Those groups sued state officials and seek to implement curbside voting for at-risk citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to remove requirements for certain voter IDs and that witnesses sign absentee ballot requests. 

On Tuesday, the state recorded the most COVID-19 patients ever being cared for across the state and, on the same day, had the fewest available intensive care beds since the pandemic began.

Of the state’s 1,600 available ICU beds, on Tuesday morning, just 268 were available, the lowest since the COVID-19 crisis began.

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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Elections

Merrill gives guidance on straight party, write-in voting

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill issued guidance Wednesday on straight party and write-in voting.

“Voters who wish to vote straight party for all of the Democratic or Republican candidates on their ballot may do so by filling in the bubble next to their party preference at the top of their ballot,” Merrill explained in a statement.

“If a voter wishes to vote for any candidate outside of the selected party, however, he or she may do so by filling in the bubble next to the preferred candidate’s name. In doing so, the candidate(s) voted on outside of the voter’s designated party ballot will receive the vote for that particular race.

In addition, if a voter wishes to write-in a candidate, he or she may do so by filling in the bubble next to the box marked ‘Write-in’ and then printing the name of the preferred candidate on the designated line.

Write-in votes must be hand-written and not stamped or otherwise artificially applied to the ballot.”

Sample ballots for the Nov. 3 general election are available online.

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Opinion | For Coach Tub, no thinking required

Joey Kennedy

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Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville (TUBERVILLE CAMPAIGN)

Has Tommy Tuberville ever had an original thought? It doesn’t sound like it. Coach Tub basically spews Republican talking points and keeps his mouth firmly locked onto Donald Trump. He disrespects Alabama voters so much that he thinks that’s all he needs to do to win a place in the U.S. Senate.

Tuberville recently addressed the St. Clair County Republican Party at its September meeting. As reported by APR, Tuberville is quoted as saying the following, and I’ll offer a short rebuttal. I’m doing this because Tuberville is clearly afraid to death to debate his opponent, U.S. Sen. Doug Jones.

So here goes:

Tuberville: America is about capitalism, not socialism. I think we are going to decide which direction we are going to go in the next few years.”

Me: We decided which way we were going to go years ago, when the federal government started subsidies for oil and gas companies, farmers and other big industry and business. That, coach, is your so-called “socialism.”

I’m not necessarily opposed to subsidies to boost business, depending on the cause, but I’m not going to let a dimwitted, know-nothing, mediocre, former football coach pretend we don’t already have “socialism” in this country.  

What Tuberville really means is that he’s against “socialism” like Medicare or Medicaid or Social Security or food assistance or health insurance. He’s a millionaire already, so there’s no need for him have empathy for or support a safety net for people who are less fortunate socially and economically. That’s Tuberville’s “socialism,” and the Republican Party’s “socialism,” and Trump’s “socialism.

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That’s a cruel, mean perspective that would cast aside the great majority of Americans for the rich (Tuberville, Trump) and connected and, where Trump is concerned, the fawning.

Tuberville: “I am not a Common Core guy. I believe in regular math. We need to get back to teaching history.”

Me: I would love to ask Coach Tubby, one-on-one, exactly what he thinks “Common Core” is. I’ll guarantee you he can’t explain more than he already has. “I believe in regular math?” There is no other math. It’s math. Does he think there’s a math where 1+1=3? There isn’t one. There are a variety of ways to teach math, but there’s only math, not a “fake” math or a “Republican” math or a “Democratic” math or, God forbid, a “Socialist” math.

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And when Coach Tommy said, “We need to get back to teaching history,” one wonders if he’s ever been into a classroom. We know more than a few of his former players weren’t in many classrooms, if reports are correct. But they always played the game under his uninspired coaching.

Of course schools teach history.

The history Coach T. is talking about is Donald Trump’s “white” history, the one we’ve been teaching in our schools forever. Not real history; you know, the one where the United States was founded as a slave-holding nation, where Native Americans were massacred and starved by the hundreds of thousands, where white supremacy was codified within our laws, where any color but white was subjugated. That history. The history that is finally fading away, so we can really see where we’ve been as a nation—so we know where, as a nation, we need to go.

Tuberville: Tuberville said he supports following the Constitution and appointing a replacement for Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday.

Me: Well, of course he does. Tuberville doesn’t have an independent thought in his body, and Donnie told him this is what he’s supposed to think. The big question: How much will a Senator Tuberville be able to function as a member of a minority party in the Senate — with no Papa Trump in the White House to tell him what to do?

Both scenarios are real possibilities, if not likelihoods.

There is no question that Doug Jones is far more qualified than Tuberville. Jones can work across the aisle, which will be vitally important if Democrats take control of the Senate. Jones has his own thoughts, which sometimes go against the Democratic Party’s wishes. Jones is independent, smart and represents Alabama well.

Tuberville is a failed football coach who lives in Florida. That’s about it.

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President Donald Trump endorses Barry Moore for Congress

Brandon Moseley

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President Trump and Barry Moore (OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE PHOTO/JOYCE N. BOGHOSIAN)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday endorsed Republican 2nd Congressional District candidate Barry Moore, sharing his endorsement on Twitter.

In the tweet, the president wrote, “Barry Moore (@RepBarryMoore) will be a terrific Congressman for Alabama! An early supporter of our #MAGA agenda, he is Strong on Jobs, Life, the Wall, Law & Order, and the Second Amendment. Barry has my Complete and Total Endorsement! #AL02”

Moore met with the president in the White House on Wednesday.

“I’m truly honored to be endorsed for Congress by President Donald J. Trump,” Moore said. “I have never regretted being the first elected official in America to endorse him for president in 2015, and I’m looking forward to working with him in the next Congress during his second term.”

“President Trump has already accomplished so much and kept so many of his campaign promises despite all that the establishment and the Democrats have done to obstruct him, but he knows there’s still lots to be done,” Moore continued. “We must contain and control the COVID pandemic, restore our economy to the pre-pandemic level of growth and prosperity we enjoyed during his first three years in office. We must restore and maintain law and order on our streets and in our cities. We must finish building the wall, and then fix our broken immigration system.”

“We had great meetings at the White House with the president’s domestic policy team,” Moore said. “Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, was also there. We discussed a new health care plan being introduced, economic recovery, trade with China and expansion of opportunity zones in depressed areas. The president has a bright vision for America.”

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“I’m convinced that Donald J. Trump is the president we need to lead us for the next four years, and I hope the people of Alabama’s 2nd District see fit to elect me to work with President Trump as their congressman on Nov. 3,” Moore concluded.

Moore served two terms in the Alabama House of Representatives from 2010 to 2018. Moore is a graduate of Auburn University, a veteran, a small business owner, husband and father.

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Moore is running for Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District in the Nov. 3 general election. Incumbent Congresswoman Martha Roby, R-Alabama, is not seeking another term. Moore faces Democratic candidate Phyllis Harvey-Hall.

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Elections

Jones introduces bill to encourage investments in minority-serving banks

“One of the biggest hurdles for minority entrepreneurs is access to capital,” Jones said.

Eddie Burkhalter

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones

Alabama U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, on Tuesday introduced legislation that would encourage investments in banks that serve minority communities.

“One of the biggest hurdles for minority entrepreneurs is access to capital,” Jones said in a statement. “That’s why this bill is so important. Increasing access to capital at the banks that serve minority communities will help expand financial opportunities for individuals and business owners in those communities.”

Jones, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, in April urged the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury to support Community Development Financial Institutions and minority-owned banks disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and he threw his support behind more federal funding for small community banks, minority-owned banks and CDFIs during the recent Paycheck Protection Program replenishment.

According to a press release from Jones’s office, the bill would attract investments to those financial institutions by changing rules to allow “minority-owned banks, community banks with under $10 billion in deposits” and CDFIs to accept brokered deposits, or investments with high interest rates, thereby bolstering those institutions and encourage them to invest and lend in their communities.

It would also allow low-income and minority credit unions to access the National Credit Union Administration’s Community Development Revolving Loan Fund.

“Commonwealth National Bank would like to thank Senator Jones for his leadership in introducing the Minority Depository Institution and Community Bank Deposit Access Act. As a small Alabama home grown institution, this proposal will allow us to accept needed deposits without the current limitations that hinder our ability to better serve the historically underserved communities that our institutions were created to serve. We support your efforts and encourage you to keep fighting the good fight for all of America,” said Sidney King, president and CEO of Commonwealth National Bank, in a statement.

“The Minority Depository Institution and Community Bank Deposit Access Act is a welcomed first step in helping Minority Depository Institutions like our National Bankers Association member banks develop the kinds of national deposit networks that allow our institutions to compete for deposits with larger banks and to better meet the credit needs of the communities we serve. The National Bankers Association commends Senator Jones’ leadership on this issue, and we look forward to continuing to engage with him on the ultimate passage of this proposal,” said Kenneth Kelly, chairman of the National Bankers Association, in a statement.

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A recent report by the Brookings Institute highlighted problems minority-owned businesses had accessing federal COVID-19 relief aid from PPP loans. Researchers found that it took seven days longer for small businesses with paid employees in majority Black zip codes to receive PPP loans, compared to majority-white communities. That gap grew to three weeks for non-employer minority-owned small businesses, the report notes.

The report also states that while minority-owned small businesses, many of which are unbanked or under banked, get approximately 80 percent of their loans from financial technology companies and online lending companies, fintechs weren’t allowed under federal law to issue PPP loans until April 14.

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