3 weeks ago

Merrill rebuts SPLC claim that voter fraud is ‘non-existent’ — Cites six recent Alabama convictions

After the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) on Tuesday sent out a press release claiming “voter fraud” has “consistently proven to be non-existent,” Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill in an interview with Yellowhammer News pointed to specific, confirmed cases of recent voter fraud in the state, rebutting the SPLC’s assertion.

The SPLC release was in reference to a tweet by President Donald Trump earlier that day supporting voter identification requirements.

Nancy Abudu, deputy legal director of the SPLC, attempted to tie in the voter ID tweet with Trump’s recent comments about Baltimore, strongly implying that it amounted to racism.

“Just days after referring to a majority-Black city as ‘infested,’ the President now calls for Voter ID — a device that disproportionately keeps Black voters from the polls,” Abudu asserted.

The SPLC spokesperson then brazenly claimed that voter fraud is “non-existent.”

“Voter ID laws do not address ‘voter fraud’ — which is consistently proven to be non-existent,” Abudu said. “But they do create barriers for Black, Latino, low-income, and elderly voters, who are more likely than the general population to lack an acceptable form of photo identification.”

Her statement ended with an attack on the South, alleging that “voter fraud” is a “myth” meant to “undermine the Black vote.”

“Unfortunately, perpetuating the myth of voter fraud has been so successful that conservative lawmakers use it as a cudgel to undermine the Black vote, particularly in the Deep South. In order to strengthen our sacred right to vote, we must restore the Voting Rights Act to its full strength,” Abudu concluded.

Speaking with Yellowhammer News, Merrill directly addressed the SPLC’s full statement.

“Well, again my friend, they’re entitled to their own opinions, but they’re not entitled to their own facts,” he emphasized.

Merrill explained that from 2015 through today, the state of Alabama has had a total of 928 instances of “alleged voter fraud or election impropriety that have been introduced to [the secretary of state’s office].” He advised that 925 of these cases have been fully investigated and closed, with three still pending.

Of the 925 closed cases, Merrill said there have been six resulting convictions for voter fraud specifically. Five of these convictions occurred in Houston County, while one occurred in Henry County.

Additionally, two elections have been completely overturned in Jefferson County during Merrill’s tenure, including the 2017 Brighton mayoral race.

“So, if the Southern Poverty Law Center really believes what they’re saying about voter fraud [being] non-existent, they need to get those people out of the penitentiary — because they’re in the penitentiary right now,” Merrill quipped. “That’s because they’ve been convicted for voter fraud. That’s why they went.”

These six cases, Merrill noted, were just the confirmed counts of voter fraud that made it all the way through the legal system. He has said previously that the secretary of state’s office has recommended many more prosecutions related to the 919 other closed cases, but local district attorneys in certain jurisdictions “frequently” balk at prosecuting election-related cases.

He also pushed back on the implication by the SPLC that voter ID laws, like Alabama’s, are racist.

Merrill outlined that the state has experienced record voter participation “since the voter ID law went into effect.”

This is in addition to breaking all previous records for voter registration.

Merrill’s office has advised that 96% of all eligible black people in Alabama are registered to vote, 91% of all eligible white Alabamians are registered to vote and 94% of all eligible Alabamians are registered to vote in total.

“Nobody’s having a hard time voting — and they’re voting in record numbers,” Merrill stressed.

Related: Merrill provides update on record voter registration numbers: ‘Easy to vote and hard to cheat’

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

9 mins ago

2019 Yellowhammer ‘News Shapers’ series continues with second rural broadband installment

Join the Yellowhammer News team Tuesday, September 24 for a “Yellowhammer News Shapers” event in Dothan.

Entitled, “Connecting Alabama’s rural communities,” the event is Yellowhammer’s second on rural broadband this year. This latest installment will focus on building partnerships and community awareness.

The event will feature a networking reception followed by a live forum on expanding broadband access and technology across the Yellowhammer State.

Confirmed forum panelists include State Senator Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva); Brad Kimbro, CEO of Wiregrass Electric Cooperative; Jimmy Copeland, director of special projects for Troy Cablevision, Inc.; Dr. Carmen Lewis, associate dean of Troy University’s Sorrell College; and Sean Strickler, vice president public affairs of the Alabama Rural Electric Association.  

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Areas of focus will include exploring partnerships that work, implementation obstacles and best practices, community awareness and future needs and next steps for program advancement.

The event will be held in Everett Hall on Troy University’s Dothan campus: 502 University Drive, Dothan, AL 36303.

The reception will begin at 5:00 p.m., with the moderated forum to follow at 5:20 p.m.

Sponsorship opportunities are still available. Please contact courtney@yellowhammernews.com for more information.

The legislative edition of Yellowhammer News Shapers kicked off 2019’s series and was followed by the rural broadband edition on July 18 in Guntersville, “Prepare for Launch” in Huntsville on July 31 and “West Alabama and the coal industry” on August 8 in Jasper.

More Yellowhammer News Shapers events will take place across the state this year. The series is non-partisan, on-the-record and designed to localize issues and highlight thought leaders.

Continue to visit Yellowhammernews.com for announcements during the 2019 calendar year.

42 mins ago

Limestone County sheriff’s attorney blasts ‘draconian’ ethics act after indictment

After it was announced on Thursday that longtime Limestone County Sheriff Michael Anthony “Mike” Blakely has been indicted on 13 state ethics counts, separate press conferences featuring his personal attorneys and the spokesperson for the sheriff’s department pumped the breaks on those looking to equate Blakely merely being charged with actually being guilty.

First, Mark McDaniel, the lead attorney for Blakely’s defense, emphasized that the sheriff would be entering in a plea of “not guilty” on all counts and looks forward to trying the case in a court of his peers.

WHNT carried McDaniel’s comments to the media, in which he emphasized that a large part of the defense will be challenging the constitutionality of Alabama’s ethics statute.

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“Virtually anything you do as a public servant now under that act is illegal, so we’ll be contesting the constitutionality of the ethics act also,” McDaniel said.

He called the ethics act “draconian” and added he will file a motion asking the court to strike it down.

Asked what about the ethics act they will be challenging, McDaniel responded, “A lot of things.”

McDaniel specified that one of those things will be how overly “broad” the statute is.

“You don’t even know what you’ve done [wrong],” he added, saying that the public should stay tuned to see their motions “attacking” the ethics act’s issues.

In a press conference shortly afterwards, Limestone County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Stephen Young stressed that Blakely continues to serve as the sheriff and that the department’s operations will not be affected by the ongoing legal situation.

Young also cautioned people about utilizing indictments as indicators of guilt.

“A grand jury indictment is not a conviction,” Young advised. “In fact, it’s the process typically used when an agency cannot obtain enough probable cause to obtain its own warrant. As Sheriff Blakely once told me, ‘You can indict a ham sandwich.’”

Watch:

Blakely served in the U.S. Marine Corps and as an Alabama State Trooper before becoming the county sheriff in 1983. He has also served as an officer in the Alabama National Guard.

McDaniel said it is an “honor” to represent the sheriff and that he is “proud” to defend Blakely against the charges.

The attorney noted that Blakely “absolutely” intended to continue serving. The sheriff was back at work immediately after posting bond on Thursday.

A Democrat, Blakely is the longest-serving sheriff in state history. He won the statewide “Bobby Timmons Sheriff of the Year Award” as recently as 2017.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Alabama postpones 50th anniversary tour over singer’s health

Country band Alabama says it is postponing the remainder of its 50th anniversary tour as lead singer Randy Owen battles health complications.

The group announced Wednesday that the 69-year-old Owen is suffering from migraines and vertigo, and doctors say he needs more time to recover.

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The news comes after a string of already-canceled shows due to the singer’s health.

Bass player and vocalist Teddy Gentry wrote in a statement that though he and the rest of the band are disappointed, Owen’s recovery is the priority.

The 50-city tour was scheduled through Nov. 23, where it would have ended in Salisbury, Maryland.

Rescheduled dates will be released in the coming weeks.
(Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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How Alabama’s Iron Tribe Fitness sets the standard for group workouts

Iron Tribe Fitness, founded in Birmingham, Alabama, is leading the way for workout programs across the nation. Ranked as one of the top five workouts in the nation, this 45-minute HIIT group workout class offers participants exciting and effective workouts in a time frame that works with any kind of schedule.

Recently, the gym hosted Coach 201, a weekend training session for their instructors in their downtown Birmingham corporate location. This session brought together all of Iron Tribe’s local coaching staff to review training guidelines and program goals.

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In hosting this training, Iron Tribe is living out their core value of delivering a consistent experience. Forrest Walden, Iron Tribe’s founder and CEO says this training session taps into the heart of what the program does — which is creating communities that change lives.

“It’s always great to see the entire team come together to fellowship and dive deep into why we do what we do every day,” Walden said.

During the training, Iron Tribe coaches were given the opportunity to learn more about the classes they teach and strengthen their relationships with each other. As a result, the coaches are empowered to return to their home gyms and lead their athletes with renewed skills and confidence.

“Kyle Sottung, our director of product development, is extremely thorough and talented at what he does. To see him lead our Birmingham coaches is always such a blessing. Our coaches are more empowered now than ever to pour into the Birmingham community,” Walden stated.

According to Walden, Iron Tribe is successful because the program is more than just a workout, but a way to strengthen the communities they serve.

“Iron Tribe stands on a list off essential core beliefs. These beliefs steer what we do every day, both inside and outside the gym. It’s our hope that by continuing to develop ourselves that we can be exceptional coaches and role models within our communities,” Walden said.

Ready to get in the best shape of your life? Learn more by visiting irontribefitness.com.

4 hours ago

Limestone County sheriff indicted, arrested on 13 financial theft, ethics charges

Attorney General Steve Marshall on Thursday announced that Limestone County Sheriff Michael Anthony Blakely has been indicted and arrested on several ethics charges.

Blakely, 68, surrendered to authorities and was later released on a $49,000 bond, according to the attorney general’s office.

The indictment includes 13 charges that cover a range of conduct over multiple years.

“Public officials are entrusted to perform their duties honestly and above reproach,” Marshall said in a statement. “When that bond of trust is broken, our society suffers undue harm. My office—working with our federal and state partners—is committed to ensuring that the violators of the public trust be held accountable under the law.”

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Specifically, the first four counts charge Blakely with four separate thefts from his campaign account that total $11,000.

Counts five through 10 charge him with theft or ethics charges stemming from his illegally taking money from Limestone County funds, including from the Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Fund.

Count 11 charges Blakely with soliciting a $1,000 wire transfer from a subordinate other than in the ordinary course of business.

Finally, counts 12 and 13 charge the sheriff with using his official position or office to acquire interest-free loans. Count 12 charges Blakely with using his official position or office to obtain interest-free loans in the form of a $50,000 cashier’s check and/or a $22,189.68 credit. Count 13 charges Blakely with using his official position or office to obtain interest-free loans by taking money from a safe that was used to store the Limestone County inmates’ personal funds.

“I would like to thank the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its investigative assistance in this case,” Marshall added. “Anyone with information regarding corrupt practices by public officials is encouraged to contact the Alabama Attorney General’s Office at reportcorruption@ago.state.al.us.”

The case is being prosecuted by the state attorney general’s Special Prosecutions Division.

“While the overwhelming majority of public officials serve honorably, those who corrupt the operations of government rob their communities—their friends and neighbors—of the fundamental right to honest government, and we must insist on absolute honesty, integrity and trustworthiness from everyone,” FBI Birmingham Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp, Jr. commented.

“I want the citizens of north Alabama to know that if they have information about potential wrongdoing by a public official or law enforcement officer, the FBI wants to hear from you,” he advised. “If you have information, call my office’s Public Corruption Tip Line at (844) 404-TIPS, share what you know, and join in the fight against corruption.”

Blakely, as is the case with all indictments, is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

UPDATE 1:20 p.m.

Blakely’s attorneys held a press conference emphasizing that he will plead not guilty to all counts, per WHNT.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn