Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill was in Mobile Monday to speak about his role on the new Committee on Election Integrity, a partisan commission appointed by the Republican State Leadership Committee and tasked with “restoring the American public’s confidence in the integrity of free and fair elections by working to establish policies aimed at making it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”
“What we’re doing is trying to put together best practices in elections and election administration,” Merrill explained. “We’re gathering data from all states — not just Republican states — and we have five core areas to focus on. Number one is to empower our states to manage elections. We don’t have national elections, but we have 50 state elections for national offices. Number two is we want to make sure that when voter registration is done that states are using best practices for voter registration and they’re maintaining their voter rolls. Number three is we want to make sure that when people vote, they use the gold standard of voting which is showing up in-person on Election Day, states require voter IDs and use electronic poll books.
“Number four is whenever states get ready to have universal vote-by-mail or if they have an absentee vote-by-mail, they use best practices in that regard to make sure they’re being safe, secure, transparent and accountable. And number five is counting the votes in a reasonable and timely fashion.”
The committee, which has no regulatory authority, intends to draft statutory language that may be amended by state legislatures or adopted as written. Merrill said Alabama follows its existing laws on election administration, but pointed to states such as Arizona, Nevada, California, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Georgia for going “rogue.”
Merrill said he was recommended by Karl Rove to serve on the committee in the wake of November’s general election, where he said it’d be foolish to believe there was no voter fraud at all, but not enough to change the results. Merrill also said none of the five Republican secretaries of state on the committee believe there was widespread, systematic fraud that cost President Trump the election.
“Since I’ve been secretary, we’ve had six convictions on voter fraud and we’ve had three [statewide] elections,” he said. “I know what it takes to identify fraud and investigate, but you need evidence.”
Last week, Merrill announced he supported a proposed bill to allow no-excuse absentee balloting statewide, but as of Monday, he withdrew that support.
“We thought this would be a good vehicle to ride to put in some other things we need to do,” he explained. “But the argument about the excuse provisions being removed became so loud, the other things we wanted to do with this bill, we’re not gonna be able to do. So, we’re stopping our support of that bill, and we’re going to drop another bill that will accomplish those things that we need done to strengthen absentee laws.”
Merrill’s office processed 305,000 absentee ballots in November’s general election, more than were submitted under the previous three presidential elections combined. He is generally supportive of absentee balloting, he said, but believes “you should never sacrifice security, integrity, transparency and accountability for availability and accessibility of a ballot.”
“My mantra has been to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat,” he said. “Since January 2015 we’ve registered 1,805,272 new voters and we now have a record number of registered voters.”
Merrill said it is equally important to update voter rolls regularly and remove people who have died or moved away.
Separately, Merrill admitted he is exploring an opportunity to run for the U.S. Senate when Sen. Richard Shelby retires in 2022. He briefly ran a campaign for former Sen. Doug Jones’s seat until ending it after Jeff Sessions announced his candidacy.
“I’m going to make an announcement in April,” he said.
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