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Opinion | Secretary Merrill responds to Joey Kennedy’s column in APR

Three different entities awarded Alabama exemplary marks for its election administration for the 2020 General Election.


Now more than ever before in Alabama, voter registration and participating in the election process is more accessible to all Alabama citizens. In fact, three different entities awarded Alabama exemplary marks for its election administration for the 2020 General Election. Conservative Women for Good Government released a “State Election Integrity Scorecard” in which Alabama was the only state in the country to receive an “A.” The Heritage Foundation listed Alabama as the first of the top 10 states in terms of election security and integrity. We were also recognized by the University of Southern California Annenberg as the gold standard in election transparency and security.

Alabama does allow straight party voting as an option, but we also allow voters to make choices outside of that party for any race they choose to. One could say that by allowing someone the option to choose one box, rather than 42 boxes actually makes voting easier for our citizens. It is important to note that straight party voting was suggested by the Democratic Party and decided on by the Legislature many years ago.

Alabama publishes several guidebooks and outreach materials dedicated to educating the electorate on election administration and the election process. The publications and our website inform Alabama citizens of the offices on the ballot, dates and deadlines, as well as instructional information on laws and the procedures to cast their ballots. We post the certified list of candidates for each election, and voters can use each party’s website to research the candidates further. We believe that educating the electorate on a candidate’s eligibility for our office is best left to the candidate. We do offer explanations of the amendments and links to sample ballots for every county. Sample ballots are also provided to the counties by at least the 55th day prior to the election.

Alabama voters may vote by absentee with a reason. One of the methods they can complete the process is by voting in-person at the absentee office any time after the 55th day prior to the election. Our state does not have “Early Voting” as it is defined in other states. However, Alabama voters who qualify to vote absentee can vote early by mail or in-person at their absentee office any time after the 55th day prior to the election. This 55-day period is one of the longest periods in the nation for voters to cast their ballot prior to election day. In the past, the legislature passed early in-person voting, but it was such a dismal failure, that is was repealed the next year.

From time to time, it is appropriate to revisit voting laws to ensure the laws and procedures fit the needs of the voters. For example, the reasons for voting by absentee have been updated recently. Voters are now eligible to vote by absentee if they “expect” to be out of town or working a shift of 10 hours or more on election day. Incarcerated persons who are still eligible voters are also able to vote by absentee ballot. Our office notifies sheriffs and administrative corrections officials outlining the absentee process for these voters. Those with medical issues or UOCAVA voters can register once for an entire year of ballots to cut down on the application process for each election. Alabama does allow voters to return their absentee ballots in-person or by mail. Our state now also allows ballots to be returned by commercial carrier.

One thing is certain, under my watch, Alabama will never allow Drop Boxes, curbside voting, or universal vote by-mail. Irregularities, improprieties, vulnerabilities and inconsistencies have been reported in every state that has adopted these methods. One thing these methods have demonstrated is how to make it easier to cheat. Alabama voters can vote their absentee ballot in-person after the 55th day prior to the election, absentee by-mail or in-person on election day. Alabama voters voting pursuant to the

Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act are provided with expanded ballot delivery and return methods along with extended deadlines to return their ballots. UOCAVA/Military voters are able to receive and/or return their ballots by secure electronic transmission. In fact, Alabama was one of the first states to allow for electronic ballot delivery and return for our servicemen. We are still only one of twenty-four states that allow it.

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The statistics from past elections have shown that 96% of Alabamians vote in-person at their polling place on election day. Even during Covid, 87% of Alabama voters chose to vote in-person on election day. In recent years, we have made provisions for elderly or handicapped voters, allowing those voters to go to the front of the line if they request it. They can also ask for assistance if they choose to. Voters who require additional assistance are provided accessible voting machines to assist with hearing or sight disabilities. These machines are available in all 1,980 polling places and absentee election offices across all of the 67 counties in Alabama. If Alabama is making it so difficult for its citizens to vote, why have we broken every record for voter participation in the state since 2016, when this administration started administering the elections?

The same can be said for voter registration. Since January 9, 2015, this administration has registered 2,145,832 Alabama voters. There are currently 3,679,375 voters in our state. 96% of eligible African American Alabamians are registered to vote. 91% of eligible White Alabamians are registered to vote. 94% of all eligible Alabamians are registered to vote. No state can compare to what we’ve done to register our citizens in the past seven years, eight months, and 16 days.

Voter registration is more accessible today than ever before in the state of Alabama. Since 2015, this administration has received over 1,612,104 online registrations. We do not offer same day registration, and there is a reason for that. Let’s look back at the 2018 Clay County Sheriff’s race, which resulted in a tie and was decided by a coin toss, or the 2022 Primary Election for Alabama Senate District 27, which was decided by one vote. If Alabama would have had same day registration, chaos would have ensued.

Alabama offers voter registration online anytime, 24/7. Voters can access their registration information and even check their absentee ballot status online anytime, 24/7. Voters can also check their registration status online anytime. Voters can also register or update their voter registration while at the driver’s license office, DHR, Medicaid, or the library. Alabama has also passed legislation to ensure that individuals convicted of moral turpitude crimes would not be disenfranchised once they serve their time and pay the fees associated with their original sentence. This was bi-partisan legislation that has become model legislation for other states. Once voters meet this requirement, they only have to re-register to vote.

For administrative purposes, Alabama does have a 15-day cutoff for voter registration. This time allows for county election officials to prepare the poll list and ensure that all voters are eligible to vote on election day. Confirming voter eligibility on the front end ensures that the election returns are completed on time and the county canvassing boards can have the returns ready to certify to the state on time. If Alabama verified eligibility on the back end of election day, this could cause errors or delays with return reporting.

In regards to the claim that Alabama is disenfranchising voters with Photo ID laws, that is simply not true. The photo voter ID law has not hindered people in Alabama from voting. Alabama does require voters to present a valid form of photo ID to cast a ballot. For voters who do not have a valid photo ID, Alabama voters can obtain a Photo Voter ID just for voting purposes at their county Board of Registrars

(Voter Registration) office. Every year since 2015, our office has visited all 67 counties providing the opportunity to register our citizens and create a Photo Voter ID for those who had no other form of ID to comply with our state’s Photo ID laws. Voters who do not have a valid form of photo ID can even request for the Secretary of State’s office to come out and make one for them. In fact, our office has completed more than 35 home visits for citizens who were unable to leave their home to have an ID made. Accommodations have even been made for our elderly or UOCAVA eligible absentee voters removing the requirement to show their photo ID to vote. The voter ID laws in Alabama have nothing to do with preventing people from voting on election day. The list of acceptable forms of ID has also been expanded to include accessible forms of identification for incarcerated individuals. There is also a provision in the law for voters who do not have an ID, but are able to be identified by two election officials. Voters are also allowed to cast a provisional ballot and then have until the Friday following the election to present their ID to the Board of Registrars in their county to have their ballot accepted and counted.

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Photo ID laws, refusal to use drop boxes, ban on curbside voting, requiring reasons for absentee voting and our 15-day voter registration deadline before an election are all security measures our state uses to combat voter fraud. If or when instances of voter fraud are identified, we investigate each reported case, and create procedures that would prevent such instances from reoccurring. It should be noted that we’ve had eight convictions of voter fraud since this administration has been in office. No other state has had that many. This is contradictory to the claim that voter fraud is not an issue. Voter fraud can and does happen. It is this administration’s goal to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.

We’re proud that our state has been recognized for election transparency, integrity, and accountability by different national entities. That’s the first time in this state that this recognition has occurred. We believe this validates that Alabama is the gold standard for election accessibility, security, and integrity. If our philosophy is to keep people from voting in Alabama, we’re doing a poor job because we’re breaking all of the records.

Even though we are recognized as the best in the nation, we realize there are areas for improvement, and that is why this administration will continue to work hard every day to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.

John Merrill is Alabama's secretary of state.

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