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Greater Birmingham Ministries sues Alabama Secretary of State over records request

The group says John Merrill refuses to hand over purged voter roll records without a charge even though the records are kept electronically.

(STOCK)

The Greater Birmingham Ministries on Tuesday sued Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill over a records request seeking purged voter lists and those denied the right to vote because of felony convictions.

The civil lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama by the Campaign Legal Center on behalf of Greater Birmingham Ministries asks the court to declare that Merrill is in violation of the National Voter Registration Act and to order him to provide those records without cost related to photocopying. 

The lawsuit alleges Merrill declined the group’s May 17, 2021, records request seeking “a list of every voter removed from the active voter rolls after the 2020 election and their contact information for every county in Alabama.” 

The Alabama Legislature in 2017 passed a law that clarified which crimes would prevent those previously convicted of felons from voting. Merrill, however, has declined to notify those who may have been impacted by the confusion and wrongly thought they could not vote, telling The Huffington Post in June 2017 that he wouldn’t spend state resources to do so. 

“I’m not going to spend state resources dedicating to notifying a small percentage of individuals who at some point in the past may have believed for whatever reason they were disenfranchised,” Merrill told the news outlet. “But I am going to continue to spend state resources to promote the opportunity for all citizens to determine their eligibility and to assist them in becoming registered to vote and obtaining a photo ID so they can participate in whatever level they’d like to.”

The Greater Birmingham Ministries, which helps with voters registration and restoration of voting rights, says it needs the lists of those denied voter registration or those purged from voter rolls to identify and correct the the matter for those who can legally vote but who may be unaware. 

The lawsuit states that Merrill said those records could be reviewed in person, but that it would cost the group $1,331.40 to get those records, or 1 cent per name for the 133,140 names. The suit alleges that in subsequent communications Merrill admitted those records were kept electronically, and that the National Voter Registration Act allows states to charge for such records even if they’re kept electronically. 

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“Alabama should end its shameful history of inequity in applying federal law only to some constituencies. Alabama must adopt a practice of complying with clearly lawful requests for information necessary to successfully assist qualified citizens as they return to their communities and participate in the fullness of civic engagement, including exercising the right to vote,” Scott Douglas, executive director of Greater Birmingham Ministries, said in a statement. “The benefits of comprehensive re-integration accrue not only to formerly convicted persons, but also to our society as a whole. Unfortunately, Alabama officials continue to take a page from the Alabama Constitution of 1901 in seeking to deny African-Americans and poor citizens their right to vote and determine who leads our municipalities, counties and state.”

Written By

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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