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A Q&A with Democratic Secretary of State nominee Pamela Laffitte

APR posed questions to Democratic candidate Pamela Laffitte, who provided written responses.

Pamela J. Laffitte

The eventual Republican nominee for Alabama Secretary of State will face in the November election the Democratic nominee for Alabama secretary of state Pamela Laffitte.

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 Laffitte, who provided written responses.

The same questions were posed to each Republican run-off candidate in a recent Q&A published this week.

The responses are included with minimal editing for clarity.

Laffitte will face the Republican nominee, as decided in the June run-off, 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?

Pamela Laffitte

There is no doubt that strong leadership with perseverance, will power and determination has presently allowed the great State of Alabama to shine bright as a diamond in the eyes of these three national entities and perhaps, many more not named or mentioned. Before being awarded this magnificent milestone, let’s not forget Alabama’s history prior to this golden achievement. Eyes from around the globe fell on Alabama’s irregularity in fair voting rights practices. A keen eye of Voter’s Rights Suppression was seen in Alabama’s laws with discrimination, literacy test, etc. After “Bloody Sunday” in the Selma to Montgomery march from the Edmund Pettus Bridge, it was thereafter, the enacted Voters Rights Act of 1965, which was signed into law by then, The Honorable President Lyndon B. Johnson. Alabama has a marking as a battle state and presently, attempting to have an enlighten marking as a model state for “Election Administration.”

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In the role of Election Administration, Election Integrity is believed to be upheld and not compromised. I would like to continue this success and add more security measures by:

  • Executing an “Election Audit”, to reassure the 67 counties of Alabama did not have voting irregularities, voter fraud, etc. This election audit will provide accountability and transparency in Alabama’s Elections.
  • Voter’s Identification- reassure that after the identification is scanned into the database, the identification is flagged and cannot be used at another voting precinct.
  • To uphold The Act of the “National Voter Registration Act of 1993, etc…”
  • Reassurance of usage of Election Reporting Management computer for tabulating elections results to reassure the database is not vulnerable to hackers.
  • Polling Precincts with long lines; consider dividing the precinct by opening an additional precinct for the district to reassure accuracy, customer service, and no voter fraud.

To name a few.

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?

Pamela Laffitte

I would concur with Bert Lance, who worked for The Honorable President Jimmy Carter as Director of the Office of Management and Budget in 1977. Mr. Lance’s phrase was, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If the Office of Secretary of State’s daily business is efficient and sufficient with effective and rapid customer service; I will continue to monitor and make necessary adjustments after collectively receiving customer service reviews and/or audits. The audit process will allow me to see the strategic fit of the office with its environment and the operational aspects. However, the epitome of achieving excellence in customer service and/or satisfaction will always be top priority.

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?

Pamela Laffitte

The role of Secretary of State is a vital heartbeat to the State of Alabama. Through that vital heartbeat, I will also humbly embrace every aspect of the role as Secretary of State and highlight Elections, Business Services, and much more.

As your Chief Elections Officer, I will continue to reassure election integrity is upheld. I will work hard to take the VOICES and CONCERNS of Alabamians to enact through legislation a bill signed into law for “Early Voting” on Friday, Saturday, and Monday prior to Election Day. Presently, Alabama Code Title 17; Elections 17-1-5, requires employers to give employees time off to vote, but there are limits, such as the employee providing “reasonable notice” to their employer. The law does cover Federal, State, County, and Municipal primaries, or elections. The employee must be registered and eligible to vote. The time off to vote cannot exceed one (1) hour. Many employees are not awarded the opportunity to take allotted time from their employment to vote and many employees do not want to lose their employment. Many employees are working longer working hours that may be 10 hrs., 12 hrs., or more. Many employees stated, they forward early request to vote to their employer and later denied on Election Day. “Early Voting” would assist many voters like in surrounding states.

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I will fight for curbside voting for our elderly, handicapped, and disabled voters with legitimate signed medical documentation. Automatic Voter Registration and not only when entering a government building. I would like Alabama to join 28 other states to change Alabama’s Absentee Excuse Voting to No Excuse Needed Absentee Voting.

I believe ex-offenders should have their voting rights restored immediately after they have served their specified prison sentence. Individuals on Parole/Probation should be eligible to vote. They served their time, “Give them the Ballot!” Alabama shouldn’t continue to punish individuals forever. Once a prisoner is released from Alabama’s Department of Corrections, he or she needs to feel a part of belonging to a community, which gives an individual self-worth.

Automatic voter restoration would be an excellent move; besides their new employment, programs, churches, businesses, etc. welcoming a past offender back to the community by being deinstitutionalized and not a part of recidivisms and repeating crime(s), which escalate statistical numbers in the prisons, which may stop the overcrowding statistical number of prisoners in Alabama.

Alabama ranked poorly in America’s Top States for Business 2021. Some reasonings are costs are low, but poor health care and non-inclusive state laws are part of the bargain. It’s imperative for Alabama to be financially healthy. Alabama’s Businesses could have steady growing revenue and their tenure in Alabama could be long term instead of short term. The Office of Secretary of State will have clarity, transparency, accountability, and an effective Customer Service approach to completing all business needs, plans, and forms electronically.

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?

Pamela Laffitte

A recent enacted House Bill (HB 194) drafted by Alabama’s House of Representative and Republican Secretary of State Candidate Wes Allen was signed into law by the present Governor Kay Ivey. A snippet of the bill’s summary is elections; prohibits state and local election officials and their employees from soliciting, accepting, using, or disposing of certain donations from individuals or nongovernmental entities for funding certain election-related expenses.

HB194 is said by many voters to be drafted poorly and a replica of another lawmaker’s bill from another state, which is an attempt in opening additional doors to “Voter Suppression.” Republican Secretary of State Candidate Wes Allen stated, “This bill is to protect the Integrity of our elections.” Moreover, HB194 brought forth many support groups with great concern about the then drafted bill, which is now enacted and signed into law. It prohibits Election Officials from accepting funds or “personal services” from private entities. The VOICES of many individuals are concerned about how organizations will be able to continue conducting voter education programs, which involves public officials. However, since this bill has become law; monies can no longer be earmarked or forwarded by private entities to the Secretary of State’s Office, Probate Court, Circuit Court, etc.

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Additionally, I’m pondering on how this bill will place a deficit in the Secretary of State’s Office and will it dampen the office from its duty in supporting voters’ education and voters’ registration. This bill also brings into question, “How will the voters working the poll site on Election Day be paid?’, unless already allocated in the County of Commission’s budget within each 67 counties in Alabama. If the Secretary of State’s Office, The Board of Registrar’s Office, and other grassroots organizations cannot have the financial donation gift, it will place them in a deficit. This deficit crunch will be felt in many communities across the State of Alabama, which means dissemination of voters’ education and voters’ registration, Poll Workers pay, equipment (i.e., issuance of face mask during COVID), restoration of voters rights of formerly incarcerated and convicted felons, and to engage and enable University and College students across the State of Alabama and other voters to participate democratically, and HB194 will fail the State of Alabama, fail the constituents, fail the voters, and most sadly, this bill will fail what the battle ground state echoed during :”Bloody Sunday” by many Foot Soldiers. HB194 passed the House and Senate and enacted and signed into law by the signature of Governor Kay Ivey earlier this year.

On May 05, 2022, Alabamians learned Republican Secretary of State Candidate Wes Allen wants to initiate a new program, “Heroes at the Polls.” According to Wes Allen, he wants to roll out a program that will actively recruit veterans from the United States Military to serve as Poll Workers. It is also stated by Wes Allen, he would like the “Heroes at the Polls” to volunteer which means, work for free. Poll Workers are paid Election Officials, and their guidelines are outlined. Each 67 counties in Alabama have their Sheriff’s Office and/or Law Enforcement Official for voter safety, protection, and to monitor the polling precincts. With that said, each Sheriff of Alabama attempts to reassure Voter Intimidation; whereas someone creates a hostile environment at the polls to try and stop voters from casting their ballots does not occur on Election Day. Wes Allen stated, “Poll Workers are a key part of the Election Day process, and we are grateful for the hardworking men and women who serves as Poll Workers. However, we always need more people to serve in this critical role. They help ensure that every eligible voter that comes to a polling place on the day of an election is able to vote and they ensure that the rights of eligible voters are protected. Veterans took an Oath to defend our Constitution and to include more of them in our election day administration process would be an honor.”

Poll Workers are partisan, must be appointed, remain at their polling precinct and reassure their political party has a fair chance, monitor election workers, keep track of voter turnout for their political parties, and swear not to disturb or try to influence voters. However, people cannot linger around the polls unless you’re an Election Worker, Poll Watcher, or Voter.

Yes, Military Veterans taken an Oath of Office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over them, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So, help them God. It is not within the State of Alabama’s 1901 Constitution with few amendments to perhaps, amend the Sheriff and/or Law Enforcement Officials role to a Military Veteran, or add a Military Veteran alongside Law Enforcement Officials to reassure Election Integrity. Alabama does not need to see any new form paramilitary militia, which could invite voter intimidation.

Earlier this year, a law for permit less to carry a weapon in Alabama was enacted and signed into law. An amendment and/or Addendum to that said law should also reassure weapons are not introduce at the polling precincts, but reassuring voters know this does not take away their 2nd Amendment Rights and promotes safety at the Polling Precincts for all voters. Veterans should not work any Polling Precinct for free because of their former military service to our Nation.

Many polling precincts were closed in the Black Belt. After Voter ID Law passed, selected Alabama Law Enforcement Association (ALEA) Offices closed, which many individuals in rural areas would’ve to travel miles to receive an ID from an ALEA Agency. It was through the tireless vision and work of Congresswoman Terri Sewell, who vow to allow her people’s concerns be heard loud and clear. I will reassure voters receive a free photo ID at the Board of Registrar’s Office or from one of the mobile units, that can also visit a voter’s home, if a voter cannot obtain an Alabama’s Driver’s License or Alabama Non-Driver’s License.

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?

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Pamela Laffitte

I will review the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) System and determine if it has a system readiness for service for the Voters of Alabama and not a system failure for Alabama and reassure it’s not wasting taxpayers’ money, grant money, allowing voter suppression, etc. I will review our great State of Alabama’s ERIC System with a condensed lens and research for clarity to include the original seven founding states; Washington, Maryland, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Delaware, and Virginia to include collectively 31 states, who are members.

I will scan their readily available reports and willing interviews to check for accuracy, security of voters’ information, irregularities, system errors, or prevention of voter fraud, prevention of duplicate votes, prevention of a deceased person voting, and if long lines were cited at polling locations on election day, limitations of provisional ballots on election day, pros, complaints, and suggestions from lawmakers to name a few.

Finally, it is said that ERIC operating costs are funded completely by annual dues paid by member states and Alabama was said to have paid approximately $25,000.00. ERIC membership dues, from my understanding, is for the maintenance of the software, technology, and system program. I will reassure the ERIC System is not a system to purge and/or remove voters from the role, whereas a cleansing system in my opponent’s vision and no more than a form of voter suppression. After I have concluded my research, I will determine if ERIC is a WIN/WIN. If it reveals a WIN/WIN, a WIN for the State of Alabama and a WIN for the Voter, I will keep the ERIC in place. As days surpasses, change will always be implemented with or without someone’s approval and should hopefully, always be for the betterment and best interest of the people. 

If, hypothetically, the ERIC System is removed by legislation, I will set up a Project Management Team.  I will have to take a Democratic Leadership approach in reviewing and embracing a conservative approach, “Rule of Law” and the heart of the voter to remain in compliance with Voter Integrity and prevention of Election Fraud and Voting Irregularities. 

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?

Pamela Laffitte

Presently, in the recent Primary Election Statewide, the total registered voters are 3,638,986 and the total ballots cast were 850,463.  This resulted in a voter turnout of 23.37 percent reported from all 67 counties of Alabama. Alabama can not continue to see low voter turnout.

I will review the present “Office of the Secretary of State Funds Statutory Authorities” created after not receiving a general fund appropriation for administrative support due to previous state fiscal issues.  By request and enacted through legislation, the Secretary of State’s primary General Fund Appropriation for Administrative Services led to an approximate decrease in state funding of 1.3 million dollars. The Office of Secretary of State is said to be operating on existing revenues.  

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After the newly enacted HB194 was signed into law, it places restraints on what the Chief Election Officer, Probate Judge, Board of Registrars Office, and additional organizations can do to promote voter education and voter registration, which is said to maintain “Voter Integrity”. The Office of Secretary of State must remain in accordance with financial responsibilities, obligations, and in compliance with all state requirements. It appears that the Office of Secretary of State has been able to do operate the office without appropriations from the general fund.  If the new enacted law HB194 cripples the said funds into the existing revenue accounts, then I will have to look at additional accounting objectives and/or business intervention for the State of Alabama.

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

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