Secretary of State John Merrill promoted clarifying absentee laws to make them easier to understand, adding that he is getting bipartisan support in light of problems he says arises from the current …
Secretary of State John Merrill promoted clarifying absentee laws to make them easier to understand, adding that he is getting bipartisan support in light of problems he says arises from the current language on the books.
Merrill spoke Thursday night to the Walker County Republican Party at Bevill State Community College in Jasper, taking aim at efforts in Congress to pass ideas such as early voting and same-day voter registration.
However, he said more efficient means of improving elections are considered and passed, such as electronic ballot delivery to overseas military personnel from the state. Those ballots are sent to a secure website to be downloaded down and sent back to local circuit clerks. "We were the first state in the union to introduce that," he said.
He said the state already has early voting, as it has absentee voting. He said is working during the Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature to change absentee laws as the excuse provisions are only there "to make people feel good about why they are saying they need to vote absentee. We need to make those more realistic. So if you think that you may need to be out of town, that is what the statement needs to say: 'I expect that I may be out of town on Election Day, not that I will be out of town on Election Day, because your circumstances might change." Another is that one may be called out to work that day.
Medical emergency requirements would also be changed to be understood easier by the voter and the election manager, he said, including when the deadline would be for that balloting.
"If you work in emergency response, if you are in law enforcement or you work for the power company, and a storm happens and you have to leave on Sunday, and the last day to make application to turn your ballot in was Friday, that needs to be given consideration, especially where we are today with technology," Merrill said.
"I've got a black Democrat from Mobile that is carrying that bill for me in the Senate," he said, adding he had a "conservative, white Republican in the House carrying it." He asked people not to think "there are nefarious activities going on" because Democratic Sen. Roger Smitherman of Birmingham was supporting it.
"There are people who have lost elections that have been good people who are friends of his, that only blacks are going to win that seat, and those people lost because of the way the absentee laws are," he said.
He also noted one case where 119 absentee ballots were mailed to a Brighton residence — the home of the mother of a candidate who ran for mayor. He also pointed to where 109 absentee ballots were mailed to an abandoned home in Camden.
"We don't need to have the list of people's names who have requested absentee ballots to be posted in the courthouse anymore," Merrill said, saying a small number of election officials are the only ones needing to know that. "We don't need to be telling everyone else your business."
Russian meddling on social media 'a concern'
Approaching other topics, Merrill brought up Russian hacking and interference into elections. He said in the last year he has had two secured briefings from U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Michele Nielsen, with about a half-dozen people in either meeting. He has had four other briefings from the department in that time.
"No tabulations changes, where votes were changed after they were cast by the voter, has occurred in anyone of the 2,499 polling sites in Alabama or any polling site in any state of the union, from the 2016 election or where we are today," he said. Involvement by Russians, other internationals and domestic players "has occurred in social media use. That is a concern. You need to give attention to that if you are on social media to try to find a way to discern what needs to be advanced and what doesn't need to be.
"We've got a great relationship with the people at Facebook and Twitter, and Google. We worked hard to establish those. They did not help us during the Roy Moore-Doug Jones campaign, but we had a come-to-Jesus meeting with them in Washington after that was over, when they were telling one set of lies about what they had done to be helpful to us. I told them in a meeting where 200 people were present, with all the secretaries of state from around the nation. I said, 'If you will tell us what you did to help us in the special election, we'll both know, because we have no evidence of you helping at any level, whatsoever. This is what we know that we asked for, and we know we did not get it.' But we are excited where we are today and where will continue to go."
Census could affect congressional makeup
Merrill also made a pitch for people to be involved in the U.S. Census, as that it can affect congressional representation. Two congressional districts in Los Angeles area have less than 40 percent of U.S. citizenship in those districts. "All the rest of the people who live there are non-citizens," he said, saying that means California has two districts it shouldn't have.
Also, "we've got to find a way to identify as many people as we can who live in Walker County or Tuscaloosa County or Lamar County or Winston County, and in all 67 counties," he said, despite the reluctance of some people to turn them in. In 1983 and now, the state has had seven members of Congress, but Georgia has grown from 16 to 25 members. Mississippi has decreased from six to four members.
"One of the things that is not going to change is if you have a black seat in your state, you are keeping that black seat. Mississippi is not very far from having two of the four they have, so we need to pay close attention to that when it comes and make sure we give the attention to it that is necessary," he said.
Local counties not using electronic poll books
Merrill passed out an annual report for 2018, noting Walker, Winston and Fayette were not using electronic polling books at the polls, while Marion Cullman, Blount, Jefferson and Tuscaloosa were among 30 counties in the state that are. The devices, using iPads, is designed to speed up checking voter names at the polls when signing in and eliminating mistakes.
After the meeting, Merrill said it needs to be implementing statewide. "If they have financial difficulties, we want to work with them to make that happen, he said, saying the costs can range from $650 to $1,100 per unit.
He said he has talked to Walker County Probate Judge Lee Tucker and Winston County Probate Judge Sheila Moore, and that Tucker told him he is comfortable with it and electronic business filings, which Merrill also desires. Moore is also supportive, "but again it is about getting the money and making sure they can do what they want to do." He said working on the project will be a priority of his.