Though the Alabama Secretary of State’s duties are 35 percent concerned with elections, the current officeholder, John Merrill, says his office has made it a mission to get more Alabamians registered.
“With all of the things you’ve attempted to increase voter registration and make sure that people are participating in the process, what do the numbers reveal?” Merrill asked a breakfast crowd in Gulf Shores on June 7. “Since January of 2015 we’ve registered 1,262,259 new voters. We now have a state record 3,484,798 registered voters in Alabama.”
It hasn’t all been good news, however. Merrill said nearly 800,000 names have been removed from the lists and there have been a handful of other incidents surrounding elections during his six years in office.
“We have also removed more than 780,000 people from the voter rolls because those people have either moved away, passed away or they’ve been put away,” Merrill said. “You also need to know we’ve had six convictions on voter fraud and we’ve had three elections that have been overturned. When people violate the trust and confidence of the process they need to be identified, they need to be investigated and, if necessary, they need to be indicted and prosecuted.
“All we’re trying to do is make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
His office has honed new techniques and technologies to not only register more voters, but also to provide free voter IDs to those who need them.
“We’ve made a concerted effort to make sure that each and every eligible U.S. citizen that is a resident of Alabama is registered to vote and has a photo ID,” Merrill said. “We’ve gone about accomplishing that in a number of different ways. Not the least of which is to make sure each and every county has a board of registrars that is open every day that the courthouse is open in that county.”
Another is a mobile unit Merrill says visits every county in the state at least once a year to register voters and issue IDs. The same unit is used at a variety of festivals and events around the state from National Shrimp Festival in Gulf Shores to the Magic City Classic football game in Birmingham.
“But if for some reason you are in a position where you can’t go to the registrar’s office or you can’t go to one of these events or one of those festivals, we will go to your home and we will register you to vote and give you a photo ID for free,” Merrill said. “We’ve made it extremely easy for people to register to vote.”
During the recently ended legislative session there were three bills passed that concern Alabama elections. One was to allow 16-to-18-year-olds to work as poll workers to help train the next generation. Two others would reduce the runoff period from six to four weeks and streamline the absentee ballot to try and eliminate opportunities for tampering with those ballots.
Merrill said in each of the last three major elections, record numbers of Alabamians voted, including 2.1 million in the 2016 presidential election, and no one was denied the vote for not having a photo ID.
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