Since John Merrill took office as secretary of state, Alabama has purged 658,000 voters from its rolls, Merrill said Monday.
Most of those voters are dead, convicted of felonies or moved out of state, Merrill says. But one Democratic candidate for Congress says the number of purged voters is far higher than it should be.
“We’re not going to take this lying down,” said Jacob Ray, campaign manager for Mallory Hagan.
Hagan is running as a Democrat for Alabama’s 3rd District seat in Congress, now held by U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks. Last week, Hagan announced the creation of a “voter protection committee,” saying that 55,000 voters in the district had been disqualified or labeled inactive since February 2017.
Hagan at the time didn’t allege any wrongdoing by the state, but noted that Alabama had a long history of voter discrimination, and urged people to check to make sure their registration was still active.
The announcement sparked a weekend Twitter war between Hagan and Merrill, who traded jabs over the numbers.
“You need to decide if you are running for Congress or for Secretary of State,” Merrill tweeted to Hagan. “I think it’s very obvious at this point that you’re not sure.”
“It’s hard to run for Congress if people can’t vote, John. Besides, @MilamForAL is the best candidate for the job,” Hagan replied, citing the Twitter page of Merrill’s Democratic opponent Heather Milam. “How about hopping off twitter and setting up a reminder for Alabama residents to register by Monday.”
"If you’re too sorry or lazy to get up off of your rear and to go register to vote... and then to go vote, then you don't deserve that privilege. As long as I’m SOS of AL, you’re going to have to show some initiative..."@JohnHMerrill https://t.co/2oLPmBflZO— Mallory Hagan (@HaganforHouse) October 19, 2018
We have registered more voters than any other time in the history of the state with 1,109,095 registered voters since I became Secretary of State. We now have 3,442,170 registered voters. An all time high in state history. 93% of our eligible citizens are registered to vote— John Merrill (@JohnHMerrill) October 20, 2018
Rogers, Hagan’s opponent in the congressional race, has sat out the debate. Attempts to reach his campaign for comment Monday were unsuccessful.
The rhetoric between Hagan and Merrill escalated Monday, when Merrill, on a talk radio show, said a total of 658,000 voters had been cleared from the voter rolls statewide. Merrill said the voter purge was designed to get dead voters and those no longer living in Alabama off the rolls — and he said criticism of the purge was a sign of desperation by Democrats.
“She wants dead people on the rolls so she can cheat,” she said. “I’m not going to let it happen.”
Merrill, a Republican, said Democrats use absentee ballot fraud to cheat in elections. The state in the past has obtained convictions for absentee ballot fraud, though it’s been done on a small scale, in local elections.
Hagan’s campaign said Merrill’s tone isn’t appropriate for an official who’s supposed to be in charge of the general election, and who is charged with being fair to both parties.
“It’s highly unprofessional and it’s unethical,” Ray said.
Democrats have long criticized the state for moves they claim are designed to disenfranchise voters, including a strict voter ID law and the closure of polling places. Ray said the Hagan campaign found out about the 55,000 purged voters after lodging a public records request with Merrill’s office. He said Merrill’s office has yet to comply with a second request, for the names and addresses of the purged voters.
Campaigns can typically purchase voter lists directly from the secretary of state’s office, and there’s evidence that both parties have data-mining operations that collect extensive information on voters. Ray said that comparing old voter lists to new ones to find the purged voters was too labor-intensive to be completed before Nov. 6.
Merrill said the state now has 3.4 million people registered to vote, the highest number in history, because voter registration efforts have outpaced the voter roll purge.
“We’ve registered 1,119,000 new voters,” Merrill said. “That’s something she’s not telling you.”
Hagan’s campaign said that registration has been done largely by candidates, not by Merrill’s office.
“We register them, and he takes them off the back end,” Ray said.
Ray said the campaign is working with lawyer Fred Gray, Jr. and expects to file injunctions in court on Election Day if it spots infractions of election law.