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Q&A with Republican candidates for Alabama Secretary of State

Here’s a Q&A with the two Republican candidates in the run-off for secretary of state.

Republican secretary of state candidates Wes Allen and Jim Zeigler.

The Republican nominee for the Alabama secretary of state will be decided in a run-off election on June 21, with the two candidates being Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler and state Rep. Wes Allen, R-Troy.

APR asked the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office to aid in crafting questions related to the roles and responsibilities of the secretary of state, and subsequently posed those questions to the candidates, who provided written responses.

Their responses are included with minimal editing for clarity.

The run-off election is scheduled for June. 21. The winner will face presumptive Democratic nominee Pamela J. Laffitte on Nov. 8. 

Question: Alabama has been recognized by three national entities as the gold standard in election administration since the 2020 elections. Specifically, what changes do you think need to be made to continue that success or maintain where we are today?

Jim Zeigler

Election integrity is the fundamental backbone to civility in Alabama and America. As the “Watchman” of the Alabama Secretary of States Office, rest assured, I will utilize the current policies of the office, current rules of elections in Alabama, and employ all necessary actions, from whatever agency required, to ensure that ALL Alabama elections are never compromised, distorted, hacked or unfair. 

As Alabama Secretary of State, I will promote additional accountability through poll watcher training seminars throughout the state. These seminars will educate the poll watchers on what to look for, how to document a concern, where to report them, etc. Training poll watchers, and promoting their importance to the elections process, will promote the accountability of the elections process. This will be our Watchman program.

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Poll workers currently serve at each polling precinct as paid election officials who carry out Election Day procedures, however, many polling precincts have little to no poll watchers. Poll watchers will serve as an additional check on stopping any voting irregularities at the polling precincts. My administration will promote poll watchers and will train them with current elections division staff – meaning little to no additional cost for taxpayers.

Under the Zeigler administration as Secretary of State, candidates and voters will have complete confidence in the election process. This confidence will be built partially through promotion of current laws we have within the Alabama Code, such as the options for candidates to have a poll watcher at each polling precinct in the primary and primary runoff election and the parties to have a poll watcher present at polling locations in the general election. This is currently an underutilized benefit our laws permit already. Changes to promote this option and to train poll watchers will ensure we are utilizing all resources to ensure election integrity.

Wes Allen

I have worked hard to continue to keep Alabama’s elections the most secure in the country. As a legislator, I sponsored and passed the bill to permanently ban curbside voting in our state. I also sponsored and passed the “Zuckerbucks” bill that prohibited private groups or individuals from buying our election equipment or supplies and barred those entities from paying our election officials or their staff members.

As the Vice-Chair of the legislature’s Constitutions, Campaigns and Elections Committee, I fought against a bill that would have allowed no-excuse absentee voting in our state. I was able to defeat that bill at the committee level. I oppose any effort to establish ballot boxes, mass mail-in ballots or any effort to allow anyone who is not an American citizen to vote. 

I do believe that it is important to end Alabama’s participation in the ERIC system and I have promised that, if elected as Alabama’s next Republican Secretary of State, I will begin the process of withdrawing us from that system on my first day in office.

Question: More than 65 percent of everything that happens in the Secretary of State’s Office is directly relating to Business Services. When John Merrill became the Secretary of State, the business services division was seven to nine months behind. Today, and for more than six years, the office is at same-day for business filings with 13 fewer employees. What is your plan to ensure this very important part of the office does not revert back to the delays in the processing of business filings?

Jim Zeigler

As your watchman, the fast turnaround time with great service will continue for businesses throughout my tenure. As your Auditor, I served as your watchman for government waste and, as your Secretary of State, I will continue to ensure that your tax dollars are hard at work. You will know exactly where your tax dollars are going – towards speed and efficiency.

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I served as your watchman as State Auditor, and provided the Secretary of State’s office with a perfect audit. As your Secretary of State, we will continue to receive perfect audits, will continue to eliminate waste, and will not cut corners in providing efficient service. At the Secretary of State’s office under Jim Zeigler, we will not operate at the speed of government, but we will operate at the speed of business.

Wes Allen

As a Probate Judge for nearly a decade, I was responsible for our business services division and will be able to serve these customers without the need for “on the job” training. It is critical that we continue to turn around filings as quickly as possible but it is also important that we make the process of understanding how to properly file that paperwork as easy to follow as possible for Alabamians who are filing paperwork to launch a business. Starting a business is the epitome of the American Dream but the paperwork can be intimidating.

As I have travelled the state, I have heard repeatedly from Alabamians that the paperwork is confusing. By providing easy to follow instructions for Alabamians who want to start their own businesses, we can make the process easier for the hardworking men and women who want to start a business by making the paperwork instructions easier to follow. That should be the goal – to make it as easy as possible to make the American Dream come true and simple, easy to follow instructions will make it easier on every Alabama business owner, large and small.

Question: The office of the Secretary of State has more than 1,000 duties according to the Code of Alabama. John Merrill made elections, business services, and international adoptions priorities in his office. What will your top priorities be, and if they are different than the current administration, why do you think one or more should be substituted by those of his office?

Jim Zeigler

Following the 2020 election, election integrity is a priority of mine as a registered voter, and elections will remain a priority of mine as your Secretary of State. This includes, but is not limited to, investigating voter fraud claims, ensuring accurate election results, and ensuring the best process is used to ensure our state has election integrity. 

Business services will always remain a priority as it comprises more than 65 percent of the Secretary of State’s office. Without prioritizing business services, we run the risk of falling behind when businesses deserve a same day turnaround time. Time costs money. Time saved is money saved.

My third priority would be the legal division. Although international adoptions are important and will not take the backburner in my administration, if a case of voter fraud were to arise, I will ensure our team will be ready to investigate the claim and participate in litigation if necessary. The legal division is applicable to each section of the Secretary of State’s office, such as business services and the election division.

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Our legal division serves as a resource to candidates, poll workers, and others who call into our office with legal concerns as well. Public information requests are submitted to the legal counsel of the Secretary of State’s office for information retained in the office; you can have confidence these requests will be processed expeditiously. With a weak legal division, we have a weak defense to voter fraud – this is why the legal division will be a top priority in my administration.

Wes Allen

Every duty of the office is important to the person who is in need of that service so I think it is important to refrain from minimizing any of the duties that the Secretary of State is elected to do by the people of Alabama. I have made election security a priority in my campaign and I am the only candidate who has any experience in elections administration.

As a Probate Judge, I administered more than a dozen elections without a single error and oversaw our business operations while being able to decrease the cost to our residents for many of the services we provided in that office. However, without doubt, my best days as a Probate Judge were the days that I was able to provide a ruling to finalize an adoption and give a child their forever family. Those days are truly special and the experience I have with adoptions as a Probate Judge will be valuable in the Office of the Secretary of State.

Question: One of the most significant accomplishments in the last seven years has been the registration of more than two million new voters. This goal was accomplished by utilizing high profiles in campaigns for photo voter ID, including, but not limited to, Nick Saban, Charles Barkley, Taylor Hicks, Jimmy Buffett, Lionel Richie, and former President Donald Trump. Due to the passage of recent legislation, the resources used to promote this act are no longer allowed to be spent in this manner. What is your plan to reach Alabamians to ensure they register to vote and obtain a photo voter ID?

Jim Zeigler

An unfortunate unintended consequence of the legislation that was promoted and passed by Rep. Wes Allen was restricting the Secretary of State’s office from promoting voter registration. Even though election integrity legislation is important, these unintended consequences disappointingly restrict opportunities for voter registration and photo voter ID promotion. Although as your Secretary of State, I will be determined to use other means to encourage voter registration and participation.  Online voter registration, registration through the online app, and registration at different state agencies all serve as a means to reach Alabamians to ensure they have the ability to register to vote.

Accessibility to voter registration forms is a form of outreach which initiates immediate action from the Alabama resident if they choose to register. Places such as libraries, and public schools typically have voter registration forms available and extending this ease of access to voter registration will create a broader reach to Alabama residents in places they go every day. My plan to reach potential voters and current voters is to communicate with them using traditional media outlets, social media outlets, and as technology changes, follow those avenues, ensuring our line of communication resonates with the voter.

Wes Allen

I have traveled throughout the State of Alabama and listened to voters from all walks of life about what they would like to see happen with elections and voter registration. I have not once heard anyone tell me they believe it is a good idea for celebrities to be paid to promote voter registration. We can certainly provide the same information about voter registration and ID that we have always provided without paying a celebrity spokesperson to deliver the message. 

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Additionally, I am committed to ensuring that anyone who is deceased is quickly and properly removed from the voter rolls and I look forward to working with members of the Boards of Registrars from across the State of Alabama and the Legislature to streamline that process and to ensure that those who have passed away are promptly removed from our voter registration records.

Question: During John Merrill’s administration, Alabama improved the maintenance of the voter rolls. One of the ways John Merrill said they have been able to do this successfully is by using the Kansas Voter Registration Crosscheck system and the Electronic Registration Information System (ERIC). Some legislators have questioned whether or not these are good tools. Secretary Merrill stated that some of the services provided by these groups are not available in any way other than being members of these entities. If Alabama is no longer a member, how do you expect to maintain the integrity of the voter rolls?

Jim Zeigler

Maintenance of the voter rolls is crucial and, if Alabama withdraws from the Electronic Registration Information System (ERIC), we must have another valid means of replacing this system. Since I have yet to serve as the Secretary of State, there are some areas including this one where significant details are not a part of the information that has been presented to me.

We have every intention to ensure we will have voter rolls that are safe, secure, transparent, and accountable as these are the basic foundation for successful election administration. We’ll study it, and if a better way can be developed, then we’ll take advantage of that better way. If vulnerabilities are proven, we will immediately disassociate with the organization and the group. I will be your intentional watchman for election security and integrity. I will have a zero tolerance policy for vulnerabilities in our elections process, including this one.

Wes Allen

If elected to be Alabama’s next Republican Secretary of State, I will begin the process of withdrawing Alabama from the ERIC system on my first day in office. ERIC is a system run by an out-of-state group which currently receives frequent data dumps from the State of Alabama containing the personal information of Alabama residents including names, addresses, contact information, driver’s license numbers and partial social security numbers. This is done without the knowledge of the vast majority of Alabamians.

I am absolutely opposed to providing this non-Alabama organization with this information on our citizens. Furthermore, ERIC is not a national group. A large number of Republican states do not participate in ERIC and if I am elected, Alabama will no longer be a participant.

As a state, we are completely capable of maintaining accurate voter records using the National Change of Address database, the same system that ERIC uses, WITHOUT divulging the private information of our citizens to an out-of-state group with questionable founding funding sources. 

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As for the Kansas Voter Registration Crosscheck system, that has not been in operation for several years.

Question: Prior to the Merrill administration, the Secretary of State’s Office received appropriations from the general budget for operating the office; however, the Secretary of State’s Office is now self-sustaining and does not receive appropriations from the state. How do you plan to continue on this path, or do you plan to return to request an appropriation?

Jim Zeigler

The Secretary of State’s Office is responsible for keeping certain records, maintaining elections, along with many other functions. As it currently is self-sustaining, I see no need for further appropriations to maintain the role it currently plays.

As your watchman, I will run the office on a tight budget instead of asking for more of your tax dollars. The answer is not always ‘additional revenue.’ Efficient management of the office is often better than throwing money at the issues.

Wes Allen

I have always operated as a fiscal conservative and will continue to do so as the next Secretary of State. I believe that every taxpayer dollar should be appreciated and valued and that no dollar should ever be wasted. That is how I operated in the courthouse and the state house and that is how I will operate in the Capitol. I believe that I will be able to actually cut costs further by eliminating the mass mailing of a full color annual report each year and by cross-training staff.

Furthermore, because I am the only person running for Secretary of State that has ever run an election, provided the types of business offerings that the Secretary of State provides and has ruled on adoptions, there will be many aspects of the position I will be able to personally perform rather than paying others to perform those tasks or to train me on those policies and procedures.

John is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can contact him at [email protected] or via Twitter.

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