“After the election, if you determine that a voter participated in a political party’s primary election, and voted in a different party’s primary runoff election, please submit all evidence and details to the Secretary of State’s Office for prosecution.” (emphasis added)
Clay Helms, Assistant Director of Elections
Supervisor of Voter Registration
Email to All County Board of Registrars, September 1, 2017
Fact: Alabama voters have never registered by party.
Fact: “Crossover” voting in primaries is common on both sides.
Fact: There was minimal guidance given to election officials but provided no guidance or education to voters.
Fact: Not all election workers complied with the new requirements.
Fact: Some counties, including Madison, have petitioned courts to open the ballot boxes to determine in which primary a voter participated.
Fact: A change in election law requires massive voter and election worker education and training. There was little time to do that this year- and considering that so many people did not even know there was a special election primary, the task was even more massive.
John Merrill, the Alabama Secretary of State, has chosen to pursue prosecution of voters- perhaps as a Class C Felony with punishment of up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $15,000 – in a rare special election primary- rather than to provide education and training to election workers and voters. Criminal prosecution, in this instance, this year, can only apply to those who voted in the Democratic Primary on August 15 who may then go to the polls on September 26 to vote in the Republican Primary Runoff. In years past, this would not have been a crime, much less a felony. It would have only been a violation of a Democratic Party rule. It is not something that any voter, especially one who has voted in Alabama for years, would even consider a crime.
Alabama faces continual low voter turnout, low voter education, and low voter registration. This year, in the primary, many voters found that they had been purged from the registration rolls- not just voters that had not voted for a few cycles, but voters who are elected officials- voters like Congressman Mo Brooks and State Representative Patricia Todd. That indicates that there are problems with the process. While the SOS did act to ensure that these wrongly purged voters could cast ballots, this purge creates an erosion of confidence in the election process. This, at a time the entire election process is being questioned nationwide.
It is critical that election workers are well informed about the law and the process. It is critical that voters are well informed about their rights and about election law. It is especially critical to proactively and comprehensively educate when election law dramatically changes.
Here is what the SOS can and should do:
- Retract any mention of prosecution of voters.
- In advance of the June 2018 primary, provide comprehensive training to all election workers.
- In advance of the June 2018 primary provide comprehensive education for all voters. That could include widespread use of social media, brochures and other media at the polls, partnerships with political parties, advocacy groups and candidates to ensure that a wide swath of primary voters understands the law.
- Stop treating voters as potential criminals who seek to break the law and violate regulations. Treat voters as citizens who are fulfilling the most basic civic duty we have.
Voting is a right. Voting is a civic obligation. And, yes, Secretary Merrill, voting is a privilege borne of living in a democracy. Election officials should be laser focused on ensuring that all citizens have the tools, resources and information they need to vote. The entire process of voting- from registration to receipt of the “I Voted” sticker- should be positive, inclusive and straightforward. The Secretary should be working towards a voting process that is easy, effective, and transparent.