John Merrill updates public on resolving election complaints

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Special to the
Opelika Observer

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill announced this week his office has now successfully resolved or closed all election complaints from the 2016 regular election cycle and the 2017 special Senate election. His team has now closed more than 92 percent of all election issue reports that have been submitted by citizens since the time he took office.
From April 2015 to August 2018, the Secretary of State’s office received 764 total complaints about voting issues or election irregularity. Complaints range from second-hand reports of unauthorized campaigning at the polls to personally-observed voting fraud. These complaints were submitted in writing to the Secretary of State’s office or through an online form. Office staff members tracked those complaints and recorded their eventual closure or resolution. Of the 764 total complaints, there are now only 58 that remain pending or under investigation.
“Our goal since taking office has been to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat,” Secretary Merrill said. “When I first sought this office, there was no process for documenting voter fraud reports. We established a website dedicated to this issue – stopvoterfraudnow.com – to make sure each report is given the attention it deserves. It is unfortunate complaints like this have to be made at all, but I am proud of the way we have worked to follow through and get them closed or reported to the appropriate authorities.”
The Secretary of State’s office will not pursue complaints that are not attributed to a source or that are submitted anonymously, but the names of individuals who submit issues will be held in confidence. Complaints are reviewed and evaluated for legitimacy, and a staff team makes a determination about where the report needs to be directed.
In March 2015, the Secretary of State’s office, the Attorney General and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) joined together to establish the Alabama Elections Fairness Project to foster cooperation among state agencies in pursuing voter fraud issues. Currently, if the issue is one that requires investigation of potential criminal charges, it is reported to local or state law enforcement or the attorney general’s office. Issues dealing with campaign finance or reporting are referred to the Ethics Commission. In some cases, a team from the Secretary of State’s office has been deployed and issues are resolved on site. Other complaints are closed either due to a lack of sufficient information or a withdrawal of the complaint.
Of the 706 closed reports, seven were handled by a team from the Secretary of State’s office, 24 were sent to the Ethics Commission, 37 were reported to the Attorney General, 151 were closed due to lack of sufficient information, 446 were closed generally, 39 were reported to local or state law enforcement and two were withdrawn.
The issues handled by a team from the Secretary’s office were usually requests made by candidates who wanted to make sure the electoral process was done fairly and legally.
Complaints sent to the Ethics Commission usually involve campaign material disclaimers or campaign finance issues.
Examples of issues referred to the Attorney General were improper procedures in the administration of the election process, absentee balloting issues or misuse of campaign materials.
Reports to the ALEA are made when there is direct evidence of absentee ballot fraud. Local sheriffs or district attorneys are involved when there is an issue that requires immediate local attention, such as a poll worker attempting to influence a voter.
Some issues can be closed quickly when there isn’t credible evidence, such as the 27 complaints from people outside the state who indicated they directly observed voter fraud on Election Day.
“Our office is committed to serving the citizens of Alabama and to doing our part to uphold the rule of law,” Secretary Merrill said. “We work closely with our law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal levels to ensure these issues are properly investigated and vigorously prosecuted. We currently have several cases under investigation that could lead to criminal charges, and we hope that serves as a deterrent for people who would seek to harm our electoral process in the future.”
Any citizen who wishes to report any issue with elections or voting can do so by contacting the Secretary of State’s office by calling 334-242-7200 or visiting www.stopvoterfraudnow.com.

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