MONTGOMERY — Alabama Secretary of State John H. Merrill on Thursday held a press conference announcing that 12 individual instances of alleged fraudulent voting activity have been introduced to his office following last Tuesday’s Montgomery municipal election.
With a mayoral runoff for the city upcoming, these dozen cases all currently remain under investigation by the secretary of state’s office and no alleged voter fraud has yet been confirmed or refuted regarding Montgomery’s municipal election.
However, this is not to say that there is no cause for concern.
Speaking to the press, Merrill explained that a lot of consternation from constituents arose over the delayed reporting of results on election night.
While there is not at this time evidence of impropriety in the administration of that election, Merrill said “human error” definitely occurred, as election workers did not follow standard operating procedure or best practices at times, which led to the increased public scrutiny.
Merrill, citing several constituent concerns and the ultimate goal of upholding the integrity of the voting process in the state, announced that 10 election observers will personally monitor the upcoming October 8 runoff.
These election observers, broken into five teams of two, will be staff members of the secretary of state’s office. These individuals have been properly trained on election procedures and best practices. They will travel to all 46 polling locations in the Montgomery municipal race during runoff voting and will also observe the election reporting process after polls close at 7:00 p.m.
This action, Merrill advised, is not unique to Montgomery’s current election. During his tenure as secretary of state, he has authorized election observers in seven previous municipal elections across the state.
Merrill outlined that the Montgomery Election Center administers the City of Montgomery’s elections per a contractual agreement.
The Montgomery Election Center is a division of Montgomery County Probate Judge Steven Reed’s office. Reed was the leading vote-getter in the city’s mayoral election and will face businessman David Woods in the runoff.
Merrill talked with Reed and Woods before Thursday’s announcement, as well as meeting with all election administrators in Montgomery, including the city clerk. Merrill also spoke with Mayor Todd Strange the day after the election.
“We met with him in the office of the secretary of state, we talked with him about what we had observed [at the Montgomery Election Center on the night of the election], what he had observed. At that time, a formal request was made by him and by the City for us to evaluate and examine what had occurred,” Merrill said. “And then, we reached the conclusion that it was incumbent upon us to have the election observers [for the runoff].”
During last week’s election, Merrill advised that standard pre-election testing of voting equipment apparently did not occur. This concern, along with other examples like poll workers prematurely removing the USB drive from voting machines (causing errors) and the printout of results not being physically posted outside certain precincts, is a focus to be fixed for the runoff, Merrill said. He stressed these things can be avoided if workers follow proper training and operating practices.
Merrill even provided the media with a handout that included some of these proper procedures, which can be read here.
It should be noted that according to the information currently available to his office, Merrill said he was “comfortable” with the accuracy of the reported election results from last week.
At this time, the secretary of state emphasized that they are not indicating that anyone did “anything wrong” besides simple human error from election workers.
“What we do know is that there were some things that happened that made people feel uncomfortable about the way that things were reported,” Merrill explained. “And we want to make sure that everybody that’s involved in the elections process follows the proper and appropriate training that they have had introduced to them. And if they follow those standard operating procedures, there should be no questions about the process or the results.”
“[W]e want to do everything we can to ensure the integrity and credibility of the elections process,” he remarked.
Merrill added that the City of Montgomery has had a contractual relationship with the county to administer its municipal elections since 2000.
“This is not a new agreement or a new arrangement. However, it is the first time that they have been interested in having someone from outside to come in and observe exactly what the process has been,” Merrill stated. “Our singular goal in this entire instance is to ensure that it’s easy for the citizens of Montgomery to be able to vote and difficult for anyone to be able to cheat.”
Why won’t Reed recuse himself?
Long before last week’s Montgomery municipal election, almost a full year ago actually, former Congressman Artur Davis called on Reed to recuse himself from being the lead election official in Montgomery County while running for the mayoral office at the same time. Davis was also a candidate in the mayoral contest.
Davis at that time expressed his worry that some type of opportunity for “impropriety,” or at least “the appearance of impropriety,” would be present.
Now that concerns about the election have materialized, people are again questioning why Reed did not indeed recuse himself — or at least take steps to bring in neutral observers to eliminate any and all appearances of conflict.
“As great as Nick Saban is, he doesn’t get to referee the games he plays in,” Davis outlined. “And that’s really what this comes down to here. If Nick Saban doesn’t get to referee games he plays in, then why should a candidate, in effect, get to referee the game he’s playing in?”
At this time, Reed has not recused himself from the runoff election either.
“What this comes down to for me and, I think, a lot of voters and people in this community, can you trust a player in the game to be the referee?” Davis added.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn