• 70°

Merrill refutes claims in SPLC elections report

Following the release of a scathing report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which found a number of issues regarding Alabama’s voting laws and policies, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill is touting his office’s success in attaining record-high numbers in voter registration and participation.

“I think it’s important to note that that report was conceived, produced and distributed by the Southern Poverty Law Center for one reason and that’s to reach their donors and raise money for the issues, topics and programs that are important to them,” Merrill said. “It has nothing to do with promoting good government.”

For his part, Merrill wondered why the organization hasn’t supported the work of his office, which he said has successfully registered more than 1.4 million new voters during his tenure.

“Those numbers are unprecedented and unparalleled in the State of Alabama,” Merrill said. “We’ve broken every record for voter registration in the history of the state since I took office.”

According to Merrill, there are now more than 3.5 million registered voters in the state – 91 percent of all eligible white voters, 96 percent of all eligible black voters and 94 percent of all eligible voters in the state.

While the SPLC report contested some of those numbers, Merrill asserted that he can pinpoint a name, address, telephone number and more for each registered voter in the state to support his claims.

“[The SPLC] can’t give you anything but what their analysts tell them they think is the case,” Merrill said.

Merrill also took exception with the report’s conclusion that voter identification laws have stymied participation at the polls.

“They’re entitled to their own opinions, but they’re not entitled to their own facts,” Merrill said. “The facts are that, since that law went into effect, not one person has been denied access to a polling place for not having an ID,” Merrill said. “We’ve set a new standard for excellence in people going to the polls. Every time. All they have is their opinion that it’s made it harder, more difficult, and that’s a lie because the empirical data says more people are voting than ever before.”

Merrill also refuted the claim that voter fraud is not an issue, noting that six people are currently in jail in the Wiregrass Region for that very infraction.

“If it’s not happening, they need to let them know so they can get out,” Merrill said. “What I believe is the more attention you pay to something, the more light you shine on it, the greater the likelihood that you can stop that fraudulent activity. It has been made clear to me, and I think any casual, objective observer, is that in-person voter fraud at the polls is not a problem – what we do have is absentee voter fraud.”

Merrill is optimistic that a bill passed last year will curtail much of that.

Merrill also contested the allegation that regaining voting rights for convicted felons is “burdensome,” noting that his office “led the way” in passing legislation to ease that burden.