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Secretary of State’s Office receives unsigned threat of mass “sick out”

The letter cites insufficient salaries and lack of benefits as contributing factors.

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An unsigned letter suggesting members of Alabama’s Boards of Registrars would “sick out” en-mass prior to the upcoming 2022 general election in November was sent to various state officials in late July, according to documents obtained by APR.

The letter, which cites insufficient salaries and lack of benefits for members as contributing factors, was sent to the offices of Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, and state Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, according to a copy obtained by APR.

The Boards of Registrars for each of Alabama’s 67 counties are the chief entities responsible for voter registration and up-to-date maintenance of each district’s voting rolls.

“What would happen if many of us were too sick to report to work during the November 2022 election season? Maybe it wouldn’t matter to you?” the letter reads. “We feel very discouraged by the fact that Alabama’s elected officials do not understand or care about the fact that we are paid almost no money for the level of work that we do, as well as the many hours of overtime that we are required to work.”

The letter’s author, or authors, continues by mentioning the lack of medical and retirement benefits, low pay, and increasing work hours coupled with the demanding technological proficiency required in the current work environment.

“The stress is increasing due to the level of technology and management skills we are required to utilize — yet we get no benefits, no contributions to our retirement accounts, not to mention, less than minimum wage,” the letter reads.

In a response to the unsigned letter, Merrill wrote that “threats such as this are beneath the dignity of anyone who has chosen to serve the people of Alabama” and that he believes the letter is not “representative of the vast majority of dedicated and honorable registrars” in the state.

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“The author or authors of this letter are seeking to hold the people of Alabama hostage for financial gain,” Merrill said in the letter. “It is a shameful attempt to use the democratic process as leverage, even though the letter’s authors were fully aware of registrar compensation when they accepted this important role.”

Merrill also wrote that if members of Alabama’s Board of Registrars call out sick en-mass, “swift action will be taken to ensure that those engaging in this behavior are immediately replaced with individuals who are willing to serve the people of our state. “

Don Milligan, the president of the Alabama Association of Boards of Registrars, wrote in a separate response to Merrill’s office that while “registrars fall far short of the earning and considerations they deserve,” his office, nor the registrars he represents, has no intentions of striking prior to the election in November.

“We are Judicial Officials, sworn to uphold the law, and I, along with the vast majority of the Registrars, hold true to that Standard,” Milligan said. “Under no circumstance would we not uphold the integrity of our office, to knowingly work to de-rail an election, one of the greatest privileges we have, for personal gain. I hope that the individual who wrote that letter had no such intentions, I certainly do not.”

Milligan also wrote that state lawmakers need to consider the shortfalls mentioned in the unsigned letter.

“We receive no sick, personal day, or vacation leave, only State Holidays if the County closes,” Milligan said. “All of this we will address legally through Legislative process and by trying to educate the few Legislators who do not understand our job.”

In an interview with APR, Milligan, who is also the chairmen of the Marshall County Board of Registrars, said that the base salary for members of Alabama’s Boards of Registrars is $80 a day, with the majority of Alabama counties providing an additional supplement ranging between $15 to $30 or more. In densely populated counties, Boards of Registrars members are considered full-time, while in sparsely populated counties, members would be considered part-time.

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“I got 216, plus all of January, so 239 to work; Some of them have 160 days, some of them have 180 days, but it’s according to how many people they have in their counties,” Milligan said. “And we all make the same money, except for the supplement.”

Up until the pay increase from $60 to $80 in 2016, members of Alabama’s Boards of Registrars had not received a pay increase for 22 years, according to Milligan, with the latest attempt at a pay increase during the previous legislative session having died in the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee this March. An increase in pay must be passed in the state Legislature since members are agents of the state.

The bill, HB265, would have increased the salary for Alabama’s Boards of Registrars members from $80 to $100, and received unanimous support in the state House. The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee is chaired by state Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore.

“We thought it was going to go well, everyone was on-board with it, except Sen. Albritton,” Milligan said. “He put it in his drawer and just wouldn’t bring it out and pass it through.”

Albritton has yet to respond to a request for comment from APR.

Milligan said that he is unaware of who or whom would’ve written the letter, and a large swath of other registrars he has spoken with in the wake of the letter’s release said that they do not feel accurately represented by it.

“The registrars are not that caliber,” Milligan said, referring to the letter. “We are good, hard-working folks.”

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The 2022 elections are scheduled for Nov. 8. 

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

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