Individuals supportive of both mayoral campaigns have concerns over possible fraud during Tuesday’s municipal election, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said in a press conference Thursday morning, prompting him to send a team down to Mobile to monitor the elections next week.

“We want to ensure safe and secure elections here in Mobile,” he said.

Merrill told reporters that supporters of both the campaign of incumbent Mayor Sandy Stimpson and challenger former Mayor Sam Jones have contacted his office with concerns based upon possible issues with the 2013 election.

In all, Merrill said the office has received roughly 10 to 12 complaints and had a number of conversations with elected officials.

Merrill said he heard from state Sen. Vivian Figures and Rep. James Buskey regarding the issue, but a statement received this afternoon from Buskey said Merrill was being dishonest.

“Simply put, Secretary of State John Merrill lied regarding my phone conversation with him of yesterday,” the statement said.

Buskey said that upon learning Merrill would be in Mobile on election day as a “monitor,” he called and questioned as to what authority did the Secretary of State’s office had to do so.

“I specifically said to the secretary that he had no jurisdiction relating to this municipal election, based on my knowledge of the subject,” Buskey said. “That jurisdiction lies with the District Attorney’s office and not the Secretary of State’s office for incidents, irregularities, etc. Secretary Merrill agreed with me, and I repeated to him that assertion to make sure that there was not a misunderstanding on this issue.

“Therefore, based on his statement that I voiced concern regarding the election next week, the Secretary of State is lying and/or is the most incompetent person to serve in that position in the history of the State of Alabama.”

In a phone call to Lagniappe, Figures later said she had contacted Merrill to find why he was monitoring a municipal election, especially since he had never done so in Mobile before. Figures said she told him to make certain it was done fairly, as these types of actions tend to intimidate some voters.

But in an impromptu press conference Lagniappe was not invited to, Jones said he is “absolutely sure” no one from his campaign filed a complaint with Merrill’s office. Further, he said Merrill’s monitoring amounts to “voter suppression.” Jones said he called Merrill yesterday for an explanation but found the secretary of state’s answers vague and indirect.

“It’s fine to come and monitor, but the effect becomes voter suppression,” he said.

In a phone interview following the press conference, Merrill said the purpose of the election monitoring is not to intimidate anyone. In fact, he said the presence of state election officials is meant to make sure voter suppression isn’t happening.

Merrill said his office has taken similar actions on several occasions during his time in office. Despite it being the largest municipality in the city and sharing an election date with Mobile, Merrill is not sending a team to Birmingham on Tuesday because he said his office did not receive any phone calls or complaints.

Concerns over the 2013 election mostly involve the process of voting by absentee ballot, Merrill said. https://lagniappemobile.com/more-than-2500-absentee-ballots-cast-in-municipal-election/ More than 2,700 absentee ballots were cast in the 2013 election, with the results a near tie between the two candidates. Also, Merrill said during poll worker training last week in Mobile, prospective volunteers were given false information. Merrill said that has been addressed.

At Merrill’s press conference, he also described what the more than 34,000 inactive voters can expect if they arrive at the polls. Voters found to be inactive, Merrill said, will have to fill out additional information at their polling place before being given a regular ballot.

Merrill said the ballots given to inactive voters who update their registration on Election Day will be given the same ballot as anyone else who is not inactive. He said voters should have received cards in the mail in January asking them to update the information, but the registration can be updated the day of the election as well.

A video of Jones’ press conference can be viewed below:

This story was updated to clarify comments made about local legislators concerns and to include a statement from State Rep. James Buskey.