Alabama Secretary of State Wants Willful Violators of New Voting Law Jailed for 5 Years

Better to punish officials who couldn't implement the new law in a timely fashion.



674 Alabama residents may have voted illegally in this year's Republican run-off primary between Roy Moore and Luther Strange, because they had previously voted in the Democratic primary. The secretary of state wants to send those voters who willfully broke the law to jail for 5 years, the maximum penalty.

Until May, those votes would have been legal. But a bill signed into law that month ended the practice of crossover voting, in which people vote in the primary of one party and then the primary run-off of another. (In practice, the Democratic Party had already barred registered Republicans or anyone who participated in another party's primary to participate in their run-off votes, so the new law only affected Democrats voting in Republican run-offs.)

"If these people knowingly and willfully voted because they didn't like the law, they thought the law was wrong, they thought the law was stupid, they didn't think the law should be enforced, our intentions are to identify those people, fully investigate them, if it's warranted to have them indicted, to have them prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill told ThinkProgress. "I want every one of them that meets that criteria to be sentenced to five years in the penitentiary and to pay a $15,000 fine for restitution."

The ACLU of Alabama has noted the high level of incompetence necessary for this situation to happen. "Crossover voting should not have been permitted to even occur," Randall Marshall, executive director of the state ACLU, told ThinkProgress. "Instead of putting it on the backs of voters and effectively chilling the right to vote going forward for fear of doing something that gets you put in prison for five years, this is a strong message from the state that we don't care about your right to vote."

If the Secretary of State's office did not do its job to ensure that voters could not participate in an election to which they were not entitled to participate, Merrill ought to look for those responsible and place blame there, perhaps even on himself, who as secretary of state bears ultimate responsibility for his office's failures.

If state officials did not have time to implement the new law, the state could have avoided such a quick turnaround. The legislation could have been written to go into effect after the state had enough time to prepare for it. Or, even simpler, the special election could have been held concurrently with the regular 2018 elections, which was the original plan before Gov. Kay Ivey decided to move the date of the special election up to 2017.

The state should not be in the business of putting nonviolent people in jail. The $15,000 fine for "restitution" should more than suffice as a deterrent to breaking the election law.

More importantly, the state should not be in the business of punishing residents for the incompetence and lack of foresight of government officials. Merrill is right that someone should be punished for this foul-up—but he should be looking inward at his own office, not outward at the residents he is supposed to serve.


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  1. “674 Alabama residents may have voted illegally in this year’s Republican run-off primary between Roy Moore and Luther Strange, because they had previously voted in the Democratic primary. ”

    How did they know?

    1. They presumably just cross-checked the list of people who voted in the Democratic primary against the list of people who voted in the Republican runoff. The actual question would be why they would be bothering to do such a cross-check in the first place other than to harass Democratic voters.

      1. So I take it these were absentee ballots or something that have a name on them?

        1. You check in before voting in person.

      2. Other than to harass Democratic voters? Really? That’s either Olympic-level reasoning contortions, or Nobel Peace Price Committee mendacity, right there. Let’s see, why, oh why, would a registered Democrat vote in a Republican primary? (I would say, ‘or visa-versa’, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem – funny that) The mind boggles.

    2. Obviously, it is known.
      How else could the already-in-place prohibition by the demoncrap party of barring “registered Republicans or anyone who participated in another party’s primary to participate in their run-off votes” be enforced?

  2. We have to clamp down on people who corrupt our democracy with their damn votes!

    1. Also we must appoint a special investigator to figure out how the Russians pulled this off.

      1. Make sure you get one that has soft peddled previous Russian investigations.

    2. Well, if it is a vote to determine who the members of a party want to represent them and members of the opposition party try to inject their, unlawful, influence, then, yes, we have to clamp down.
      I know proggies feel they need to unfairly control everything, but they shouldn’t be surprised when something happens that pushes back on that unfairness.

  3. The state should not be in the business of putting nonviolent people in jail.

    Every state since Sumer: ?\_(?)_/?

    1. To be fair, in many of those states the nonviolent offenders were only in jail until they could be executed.

    2. “White collar” criminals get a pass.
      Free Bernie Madoff!

      1. I, personally, would be happy to see him released off the coasts of Iceland, Norway, or the Valdes Peninsula of Argentina. Free Bernie! (not to be confused with, “‘Free’ Bernie!”)

  4. When was this law passed? How soon before the voting?

    1. The post says the law was passed in May of this year. The first round of primary voting was in August with a runoff in September, so roughly three months for the former and four months for the latter.

      1. Not a long lead time as such things go. People remember the rules from their last election, and assume the same rules still apply unless there’s a sign in BIG BOLD LETTERS saying NEW LAW: YOU CAN ONLY VOTE IN YOUR OWN PARTY’S RUN-OFF or whatever the specific terms of the law there.

        “Ignorance of the law is no excuse” yada yada, but that rule should be scaled back to apply to intuitively-obviously laws like don’t murder, don’t rob, etc.

        1. Or in this case – don’t try to vote in two different primaries.

        2. The first time I walked into a courtroom and saw a bookshelf of texts that recorded ‘the law’ and its precedents I knew the sole purpose of the phrase, “ignorance of the law …”, was to use as a bludgeon to beat senseless those of few resources. That phrase pisses me the off almost as much as, “deserve”.

  5. Why doesn’t Alabama just make it illegal to vote for a Democrat?

    1. A 180 degree turnaround from its former policy?

  6. Political parties are private organizations. Why is government involved in their candidate-choosing processes at all?

    1. Are you not familiar with the FYTW clause of the Alabama state constitution?

    2. Because the political parties control the government and offloaded part of what otherwise would be their own administrative expenses onto it?

    3. Because our Democracy is in jeopardy.

  7. Really the only crime they committed was voting for one asshole over another asshole. And their punishment will be electing an asshole to office to rule over them.

  8. Seriously, now. Does anyone really think a “crossover voter” in any primary doesn’t know exactly what she or he is doing, and why? For anyone accused to contend otherwise would be to present the apex “dipshit defense” of all time

    1. I believe the “dipshit defense” is a legal defense in Alabama.

    2. I would think choosing who you would want to run under each party is a completely legitimate interest. I know in the recent Presidential election, there were early-runners in the D *and* R camps I would have been OK with voting for. As always, those are the candidates that get eliminated early on, until the field gets whittled down to tweedledumb and tweedledumber.

      Certainly I can see each major party not wanting crossover-votes in a primary (for their own selfish reasons). But the D & R parties are devoid of souls anyway.

      1. Devoid of souls or not, trying to effect, or sabotage, the opposition party’s primary elections is far more dirty than buying ads on Facebook.

    3. It’s actually worse than that. “Crossover voting” is when someone is a member of one party but votes in the other party’s primary when they have no intention of voting for the candidate in the general election but want to stick them with either a weaker candidate that their preferred party’s candidate would have a better chance of beating in the general election. It’s frowned on by people who think that members of a political party ought to be able to pick their candidates but so long as everyone who participates in a primary only gets to participate in one, it’s usually considered fair game in states that have open primaries.

      What happened here is both Democrats and Republicans had their primary but the Republican primary race was close enough to trigger an automatic runoff vote. So people who had already voted in the Democratic primary then went in voted in the Republican primary runoff vote (which is still part of the Republican primary) and in effect were voting in two primaries.

      So no, I’m not upset at all that the State closed this loophole so that people only get to vote in one primary. It was done well before the election so they have no legitimate claim that it was somehow “unfair.”

    4. Does anyone really think a “crossover voter” in any primary doesn’t know exactly what she or he is doing, and why?.

      Proggies gotta prog.
      The sine qua non of proggies is to prevent anyone else form doing what they feel is their right to do, no matter how underhanded.

  9. That Secretary of State is a god damn monster.

  10. Challenge is as straight-up unconstitutional. Do you pay taxes? Is there an election? Will your representation be in any way affected by the election? Then you have the right to vote, as “no taxation without representation” is one of the founding principles of our nation, nay, is one of the founding principles that led to the creation of our nation.

    You want to have your caucus, your polling, your whatever to determine who runs your particular party, fine. If you schedule an election, using the machineries of the state, then you should be forced to allow access to all legal voters who might possibly be represented by this person, and “legal voter” should be defined in the broadest terms possible.

    Republicrat-only primaries? Bugger that for a lark.

  11. RE: Alabama Secretary of State Wants Willful Violators of New Voting Law Jailed for 5 Years
    Better to punish officials who couldn’t implement the new law in a timely fashion.

    “Better to punish officials who couldn’t implement the new law in a timely fashion.”

    But that would only make officials act in a responsible manner.
    We all know what kind disasters that would produce.

  12. The GOP in action. Not one rich person will be jailed or fined. This is yet another ploy to keep the poor from voting. Anyone who is not rich, and also votes Republican, is a fool. Attn. poor people: The Republicans hate you.

    1. The only ones the Republicans hate are the useful idiots, who think the wealthiest members of government are looking out for “the little guy”.
      They actually, don’t hate anyone – that’s reserved for the proggies – the just feel pity that you are that stupid.

    2. As sarcasm, that is masterful. As genuine commentary, one wonders why some chose to drink so heavily so early in the day.

  13. Embrace the Power of And!

  14. Sending all those people to jail for the max would cost 100 million dollars.

  15. Mr. Marshall’s “reasoning” is so disingenuous it makes you want to root for the bad guy.

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