Alabama Sec. of State John Merrill
CULLMAN - The Cullman County Republicans held their monthly meeting over the weekend, welcoming special guest. Alabama Sec. of State John Merrill. Merrill, who was elected in Nov. 2014, traveled to Cullman to address such issues as the Secretary of State Report, cost savings initiatives, and voting roll purges and reform.
The meeting began with the announcement of Waid Harbison as the new chair of the Cullman County Republican Party. Harbison thanked outgoing chair Kelly Duke for his service to the party over the last several years, and awarded him with a gift from the party.
The chair of the Alabama Republican Party, Terry Lathan, was also in attendance, along with Cullman’s delegation to Montgomery- Sen. Paul Bussman, R-Cullman, Rep. Corey Harbison, R-Good Hope and Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Fairview. Lathan has just served a two-year term and is preparing to run for another two-year term; she is the only female chair in the southeast, and is one of seven female chairs of the Republican National Committee.
Lathan shared that the Alabama Republican Party will be hosting a winter dinner in Birmingham at the Winfrey Hotel. Details and tickets are available online at www.algop.org. According to Lathan, they are almost sold out. The keynote speaker will be the president of the Tomb of the Unknown Solider Society. Dr. Billy Hawkins, president of Talladega College, will be joining the dinner as well.
Lathan asked those in attendance to sign two petitions, calling for the state of Alabama to register party affiliation when one registers to vote. These will be the first step towards Alabama becoming a closed primary state.
“The fact of the matter is that we’re one of the few states in the nation that does not have some kind of a hybrid or some sort of party registration. We think that it’s important to let team members pick our team, particularly in a runoff,” stated Lathan, as she reasoned why the state must reform its election laws. She argued, “There is a real push for (the reform) in the Republican Party. We have seen races where crossover voting has changed the outcome of our candidate.”
Lathan was asked about her views on Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). RCV is where voters get to vote for candidates in the order which they prefer their candidates; for example, an Independent voter may want to vote for a third party, but fears that their vote will cause a Democrat to win. With RCV they can vote their conscience without being a “spoiler,” because their vote will be reallocated should there be no clear winner. States and other nations with RCV also avoid spending tax dollars, and extra time, on runoff elections.
Lathan said, “It’s a good system because it prevents a runoff; therefore, you don’t have to have voters come back out and you don’t have to pay millions of dollars for extra elections.” Although Lathan supports the idea, she said, “It would take some education and it would have to go through the process. The biggest issue would be explaining to people, ‘how does this work?’”
Guest of honor Merrill was up next, and he began by saying just how special Cullman is to him.
“Cullman is a very special place to me; it’s a place that I didn’t spend a lot of time before I started campaigning… I had more than 30 unique visits to Cullman County in the two years when I was campaigning. The one thing that people in this community did for me that was unusual is that you took me in as one of your own. I will never forget that.”
The Cullman County Republicans were the first group in the state to receive the Secretary of State Report by hand. The report was released on Feb. 3, and will be received by others via mail in the coming days. The report summarizes what the Secretary of State’s office did in 2016.
Merrill then explained his role in Alabama. “I work for you. I work for you. Paul Bussman works for you. Randall Shedd works for you. Corey Harbison works for you. We are here to serve you,” he said.
An important aspect of what the secretary of state does in Alabama is voter registration. Merrill said, “We want to ensure that every eligible U.S. citizen is registered to vote and has a voter ID.” In order to do that, Merrill says his office has created a Vote for Alabama app that is available on the App Store and Google Play. He also says that he is asking legislators where the state needs to hold a registration and voter ID drive; not only that, but he is working on having drives at local festivals around the state to reach as many people as possible. More than 600,000 voters were registered since Jan. 19, 2015, bringing the state total to more than 3.3 million voters, the largest in the history of the state.
However, despite these efforts, critics argue that Alabama does not go far enough and even discriminates against the poor and minority communities. Alabama is currently being sued over its voter ID law, and the case is set to go to court in September 2017. Merrill himself has come under fire for not supporting automatic voter registration (where everyone is registered by the state to vote when they turn 18).
Not only is the state in court over voter ID, but in January, federal judges struck down 12 of Alabama’s legislative districts saying Republicans relied too heavily on race when drawing district lines.
According to WBRC FOX6 News, “The three-judge panel ruled Friday (Jan. 20) in the long-running lawsuit over the legislative districts, according to the Associated Press. The judges say 12 districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered, and they blocked the Alabama Legislature from using them in future elections. The panel upheld 24 more challenged districts.”
Merrill argues that the state legislature must fix the issue in a special session or the court will fix it for them.
“I wish that we could go back to where we stayed in county lines or community lines because we need communities of interest instead of splitting a street in Hanceville because Corey needs these votes and Ed Henry needs those votes. It’s not good; it’s not good for those people; they don’t know who their legislator is. That’s a problem.”
Sec. Merrill can be reached at 334-242-7200, 334-328-2787 or email@example.com.
The Cullman County Republicans will hold their next meeting on March 4, with special guest speaker, Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries John McMillan. Meetings are held at the Cullman Elks Lodge with breakfast at 7:30 a.m.
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