Special to the
It’s morning in Alabama, and Alabamians are registering to vote and turning out to cast their ballots in record numbers. Secretary of State John H. Merrill is proud to announce that the upward trend in record voter registration across the state has continued, and we have reached a milestone of 1 million newly registered voters. Since Merrill took office on January 19, 2015, he has tracked registrations to document the progress made with the implementation of new programs like the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), online voter registration and the Photo Voter ID and voter registration awareness campaign.
As of today, Alabama currently has 3,389,018 registered voters. In addition, 1,004,250 of those voters have registered since January 19, 2015, or the date since Merrill took office.
When Merrill was elected in 2014, he was determined to transform the State’s Elections Division into a voter-focused office that embraced technology to help Alabama’s voters better transition into a more modern and efficient elections system. His first steps included building and hosting a committee of elected representatives, community leaders and private citizens, to review changes to the felony disenfranchisement laws, the implementation of electronic poll books and changes to the voter registration system to ensure the state was fully compliant with the National Voter Registration Act.
The committees reviewing felony disenfranchisement laws and electronic poll books produced legislation to allow implementation. The team of Secretary of State staff reviewing the state’s compliance with NVRA determined the state needed to make arrangements with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) to become compliant with federal law, which required Alabamians to be given the opportunity to register when they obtain a new license or update their Alabama driver’s license. This process was accomplished and helped Merrill’s team implement the state’s new online voter registration system, which verifies a person’s identity by checking it against their driver’s license information. Utilizing this new interactive resource that resulted from a partnership with ALEA, the Secretary of State’s Office was able to utilize a program called ERIC, which allowed the Office to contact all Alabamians with a driver’s license who were not yet registered to vote.
The team that reviewed the electronic poll book systems prepared a pilot program for the 2016 General Election and followed it with an RFP process that certified three poll book vendors for statewide use. These systems accelerated check-in times, allowing voters more immediate access to their ballot. In Mobile County, poll workers were able to process more than 600 voters an hour.
Early in his tenure as Secretary of State, Merrill discovered that the Secretary of State’s Office had been given approval to conduct online voter registration via an Attorney General’s opinion issued in 2009. Merrill directed his team to develop a low-cost solution to this issue. The team began in late 2015, and by January of 2016, a solution was in place. By March of that same year, an accompanying phone app had been developed for users to register or update their voter record and find their polling location on Election Day. To date, 26 Alabama counties have begun utilizing this equipment, and Merrill hopes to have them in every polling location in the state by 2022.
The automatic voter registration system has accounted for more than two-thirds, or 650,341 of the new registrations since Merrill took office.
Another area Merrill has sought to improve within the Secretary of State’s responsibilities is the Boards of Registrars offices in all 67 Alabama counties. These board members are appointed by the Governor, the Auditor, and the Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries and are responsible for ensuring that each Alabamian who wishes to become a registered voter is given that opportunity. Merrill has ensured the implementation of a rigorous training schedule for these board members by partnering with Auburn University’s School of Election Management. This training ensures that registrars are equipped to handle the system and the various day-to-day issues. Additionally, the training provides continuing education credits through Auburn University.
Merrill has also implemented a traveling voter registration and Photo Voter ID unit that travels to festivals, churches and businesses across the state and conduct voter registration drives. Merrill has also made home visits a reality for voters who are unable to attend a mobile unit event. Citizens can request these units either by calling the Secretary of State’s Office at 334-242-7200 or by visiting alabamavotes.gov.
The final and most well-known effort that Merrill implemented to reach each and every Alabamian who wishes to become a registered voter was a marketing campaign that utilizes recognizable Alabamians as a way to carry the message of voter registration and Photo Voter ID to people across the state. These efforts included the following famous Alabamians (who provided this service at no cost to the taxpayer):
– Nick Saban (Alabama Head Football Coach)
– Gus Malzahn (Auburn Head Football Coach)
– Deontay Wilder (World Heavy Weight Boxing Champion)
– Charles Barkley (2-time NBA Hall of Fame Inductee)
– Dr. Mae Jemison (First Black Female Astronaut)
– Jessica Proctor (Miss Alabama 2017)
– Taylor Hicks (Season 5 American Idol Winner)
– Rick and Bubba (Syndicated Radio Hosts)
Merrill produced posters and radio and TV commercials that encourage voters to prepare for Election Day by registering to vote and ensuring that they obtain a government-issued Photo ID prior to the election.
These programs led to the largest increase in state history for voter registrations at more than 1 million newly registered voters. Each of these programs has placed power in the hands of Alabamians to ensure that they have access to be participants in the electoral process which makes Alabama and the United States great.