Alabama’s chief elections official says he’s confident the vote will be secure in his state on Nov. 8.
But Secretary of State John Merrill says he can’t vouch for the rest of the country.
“It doesn’t matter to me what happens in the other 49 states,” Merrill said in a Tuesday telephone interview.
Merrill’s comment comes as election officials across the country are responding to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s escalating allegations of unfairness in the coming election. Trump, who trails Democrat Hillary Clinton in most polls, told crowds at rallies last week that the election would be “rigged.” He followed that up with a Monday tweet alleging “large scale voter fraud happening on or before Election Day.”
Trump so far has offered no evidence to support those claims. But they sparked a response from the National Association of Secretaries of State on Tuesday. The association said it “cannot allow unsubstantiated claims calling into question the systemic integrity of the election process to shake voter confidence or disrupt voting.”
Several secretaries of state, many of them Republican, have taken Trump to task for the claim. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted told CNN Trump’s statement was “irresponsible.” Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, in a Facebook Live press conference Monday, said he had “confidence” that the country would have a smooth transfer of power.
Merrill, however, declined to comment on his confidence in the upcoming election as a whole, saying he could only say Alabama’s elections would be run properly. He compared the question to asking a single football coach about the state of all the teams in the NCAA.
“If you asked Nick Saban that question, he’d cuss you out,” he said.
Merrill, a Republican, announced via Twitter on Monday that he has already cast a vote for Trump. (The state is already accepting absentee ballots.)
Politicians on both sides of the aisle grew alarmed in September when intelligence officials reported that Russian-based hackers attempted to hack into some states’ voter registration databases. Merrill said those hacks didn’t affect Alabama, and couldn’t affect voting machines, which aren’t connected to the Internet. Alabama uses paper ballots that are counted electronically by machine, creating a paper trail.
Asked if he believed past national elections were valid, Merrill said yes. But he said that didn’t allow him to talk about the level of preparation in other states.
“The answer to the question is that it’s not my business what happens in other states,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the National Association of Secretaries of State said Merrill’s approach sheds light on a common misconception about elections: that there is a nationwide system, rather than 50 different bodies counting votes.
“It would be highly improbable for someone to change the result of the vote because of hacking, because elections are so decentralized,” said Kay Stimson, director of communications for NASS. Because voting machines aren’t connected to the Internet, hacking would require physical access to each machine.
Asked if election officials had a duty to foster confidence in elections nationwide, Stimson said not necessarily.
“It’s a common misconception that there’s a nationwide system,” she said. “States run the election, so the statement Secretary Merrill gave you is appropriate in that he’s in charge of one state.”