Merrill derides Southern Poverty Law Center report on voter suppression — ‘They have nothing’
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill is strongly contesting the assertions made Monday in a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The report from the SPLC alleges that since the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Shelby County v. Holder was handed down in 2013, Alabama has engaged in a number of practices that disadvantage its black and brown citizens’ ability to vote.
As Secretary of State, John Merrill is Alabama’s chief elections official. As such, he was the public figure most directly implicated in the reports’ findings.
Merrill told Yellowhammer News that the report was “not done for any other reason than to help them raise financial resources to promote their liberal agenda.”
“It was not done to try to build up the democratic republic that we know as the United States of America. It was not done to promote voting rights and voting integrity,” he added.
A press release from the SPLC maintained that Alabama’s improper tactics included “implementing a photo voter ID law, maintaining a burdensome and discriminatory restoration scheme for those with felony convictions, closing polling places in predominantly Black counties, and purging hundreds of thousands of voters from the voter rolls.”
Merrill pushed back against each of those claims.
“We’ve broken every record in the state for voter registration and voter participation, and they don’t like that. I don’t know why!” Merrill exclaimed.
Merrill first referred the public to the process for closing local polling precincts. He outlined that the procedure for closing a precinct is taken on by a county’s probate judge, sheriff and circuit clerk before being approved by the county commission. As such, any allegation of prejudiced behavior as it relates to the precinct closings is not properly aimed at the state, but rather local officials.
The SPLC described Alabama’s law forcing felons to pay off their court fees before voting as conditioning “the right to vote on a person’s wealth.” In their eyes, that is too laborious a task to put in front of a convict who seeks to be re-enfranchised.
Yellowhammer News asked Merrill about the SPLC’s claims that Alabama’s process for a convicted person to have their voting rights restored was an undue burden.
Merrill first cited legislation he had collaborated on with Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) that Merrill says clarified and streamlined the process for felons paying off fees.
“Once you’ve paid all your fees and all your fines, and done all your time … you will be successfully readmitted to the voter rolls without any delay,” he explained.
“We have that communication occurring at the Department of Corrections and at Pardons and Paroles,” Merrill added.
When asked if he thought Alabama’s system requiring the settling of fees was just, Merrill responded, “Absolutely. They did harm to society. … They committed a crime, so they have to serve their time. They have to pay their fees, and they have to pay their fines. No doubt about that.”
Merrill quickly dismissed the claim that the state fees for the voter rolls were too high.
He maintained, “It’s one penny per name.”
The assertion by the SPLC that the voting rolls had incorrect data drew the polite ire of Alabama’s chief elections official. Merrill says his office “has a name, an address, a birthday, a social security number, a driver’s license number, and an email address if provided.”
He emphasized of the SPLC, “They have nothing. They have nothing.”
“They’re entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts,” Merrill added.
One of the positions the SPLC most heavily emphasizes in the report is the need for Alabama to create an early voting system; a method that would allow voters to cast their votes before Election Day if they wanted to. Such systems are common across the United States.
“Every state in the Union that has early voting has two things in common. Number one,” Merrill argued, is not a single state with early voting “has voter participation had a marked increase.”
Also, the Secretary of State went on to say, “One thing has increased every time. The cost of the election. Why should we have early voting to benefit a few people and have everybody pay for it? That does not seem fair to me.”
Merrill wrapped up his remarks to Yellowhammer saying, “Voting is a right for our people to exercise. We want to make sure that everybody that is eligible to participate in the electoral process is given the opportunity to become a registered voter. And then they can exercise their right through the privilege of living in the democratic republic that we call the United States of America.”