In less than two weeks, Republican voters will decide whether a Tuscaloosa state legislator or a Montgomery probate judge will be their nominee for the position of Alabama Secretary of State.
State Rep. John Merrill and Probate Judge Reese McKinney face each other in a runoff election July 15. The winner is set to face Democrat Lula Albert-Kaigler in the general election for secretary of state. The office oversees elections and the registration of corporations, among other regulatory tasks.
Merrill, a first-term lawmaker and former spokesman for the Tuscaloosa County Board of Education, describes himself as “the most conservative and accomplished candidate in this race.” He believes that his dedication to conservative beliefs, experience in an elected position and dedication to the state will propel him toward success.
Merrill said that, if elected, his first order of business would be to take care of the business division of the office. Licensing and trademarking at the state level takes too long, he said.
The current process can take up to four months, even extending as long as six. He hopes to streamline the process and make it more efficient, shortening the process to just one day. “If they do it in other states in one day, we can do it in Alabama in one day,” said Merrill.
McKinney, first elected as probate judge in 1998, said the job has prepared him for the secretary of state’s office. Probate judges handle election issues and business regulation at the county level.
“I have performed many of the same functions at a local position for more than 14 years. I believe that uniquely qualifies me as a candidate as the next secretary of state,” he said.
McKinney said facilitating voting for veterans, as well as enforcing the new photo voter identification law will be at the top of his to-do list. On his website, McKinney also says he hopes to reduce red tape for new businesses.
Both candidates emphasize the importance of spreading awareness of the July 15 election. Both said they expect low turnout. Roughly 21 percent of registered voters turned out for the June 3 primaries, and turnout in runoffs typically is lower than in primary races.
Despite the possibility of low voter turnout, both Merrill and McKinney have been advertising in advance of the runoffs, and have been raising money to pay for those ads. Merrill had nearly $122,000 in campaign funds at the end of June, according to campaign finance reports, after raising roughly $29,000 in the last week of that month. McKinney raised $22,000 over the same period and ended the month with nearly $68,000.
There’s no incumbent in the race. In 2013, Jim Bennett was appointed secretary of state by Gov. Robert Bentley after Beth Chapman retired from the position. Bennett opted not to run for a full term, leaving the position open.