The most important and fundamental right that we have as Americans is the right to vote. But many people today believe our nation is experiencing extreme voter disillusionment, firmly rooted in a perceived lack of power in the hands of the voters.
For many years, Alabama’s voice in determining the major party Presidential nominees has been marked irrelevant by political strategists, media, and even the candidates themselves. This is a consequence of the timing of our primaries. In 2000 and 2004, our Presidential primaries took place in June, long after the nominating process had mostly run its course. In an attempt to address this dilemma, the Alabama Legislature moved our primary elections to February (2008), which did increase our relevance; however, the change was rather small, only slightly increasing state visits by legitimate presidential hopefuls in 2012 (March Primary).
The way the system functions today, Presidential candidates justifiably allocate 80 percent of their time and resources to the key swing states and regions. But that leaves many Southern voters struggling to maintain faith in the idea that candidates from either major party truly represent their interests and ideals.
Recently, Alabama joined several other Southern states in a discussion that stemmed from this feeling that our voters are disconnected from the Presidential candidates with whom they are rarely able to engage. An idea was proposed to hold a single united primary election on March 8, 2016, which would greatly increase the attention necessary to win this region of the country because we would all be voting at one time.
A Southern Super Tuesday, or “SEC Primary” as some are calling it, would greatly increase the importance of the southeastern states to Presidential hopefuls. This consolidated election day would separate the South for the same reason that Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and other states receive national attention.
The main goal of this effort is to create an environment that forces candidates to appeal to the an even larger and more complete constituency than they currently do. Southerners, and more specifically Alabamians, represent a largely conservative, working class group of voters, but because of the timing of our primary elections, our calls for more conservative candidates have gone unheard.
Different regions of our nation have different needs and different views, and if a candidate for the Presidency is compelled to spend more time getting to know our people, our issues, our problems, and our concerns, then I am confident that he or she will give more attention to our voices when they are raised after the election.
In 2016 our voice can be much louder by joining with other Southern states that are so often forgotten.
However, a new election day alone will not affect the necessary change, it will take an active and engaged electorate that, on March 8, 2016, resolutely expresses ownership of our most valued right as Americans: the right to select political leaders and put in office those who hold true to our values and our ideals.
As your Secretary of State and Chief Elections Official, I will do all that I can to help position the South — and more specifically Alabama — as a place that all Presidential candidates will make an effort to visit and meet our remarkable people.
John Merrill is Alabama Secretary of State – elect