The blunders and pettiness of Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill have the makings of an off-Broadway play, as he has opted to take the Donald Trump approach of attacking, belittling and demeaning constituents and others with whom he disagrees. They are both vindictive bullies who love the limelight.
Since winning his race to become Alabama’s top elections officer six years ago, Merrill’s antics and screwups have been plentiful.
His costliest blunder was in 2016 when his office omitted language in a proposed constitutional amendment, prompting the reprinting of three million ballots and costing the state more than $450,000. Luckily an absentee voter was reading their ballot more carefully than the Secretary of State did, and alerted a non-profit organization to the error well before Election Day.
That same year he traveled to Russia to monitor an election, where he claimed the process he observed was “free and fair.” The election was a landslide victory for President Vladimir Putin’s United Russian party. Seems legit.
In the 2017 special election to fill Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat, Merrill wanted almost 700 Alabama Democrats charged for mistakenly voting in a primary runoff, after a change in the law made “crossover voting” illegal. Merrill said, “I want every one of them that meets that criteria to be sentenced to five years in the penitentiary and to pay a $15,000 fine for restitution. That’s what I want.” Probate judges later determined prosecution was not warranted; all the cases were an error by a poll worker, election official or voter.
Merrill regularly finds himself at odds with the U.S. Constitution, having proclaimed voting a privilege and not a right. He opposes both automatic voter registration and direct mail voting and feels progressives are using the coronavirus to promote a liberal agenda by requesting more accommodations to keep voters safe on Election Day. Meanwhile, he’s expanded access to absentee voting due to the pandemic. I hate to tell you, John, but despite what you tweet at the president, that’s allowing vote-by-mail.
You might also remember Merrill making headlines during his short-lived U.S. Senate run in 2019, when he said that America is losing its moral core due to its preoccupation with "homosexual activities." He said that America is obsessed with TV shows that lack biblical foundations and fail to promote a nuclear family of a father, mother and children. Ginning up clickbait was about the only headway Merrill made in that race, and he dropped out in December of last year.
Merrill, a former Democrat himself, makes it clear he doesn’t have much tolerance when it comes to an opposing viewpoint, so maybe it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when he recently wrote an op-ed in the Yellowhammer News condemning the Sierra Club for filing a lawsuit against the state regarding air and water quality permits for a power plant in south Alabama. He writes that the Sierra Club is “threatening the economic livelihood of Alabama’s own businesses.” I didn’t realize one of the duties of the Secretary of State was lambasting environmental organizations. A little odd, even for Merrill.
But then I began connecting the dots. The week prior, Merrill stirred up a hornets’ nest on Twitter when he got a simple question from a constituent: “I am attempting to apply for an absentee ballot for Alabama's July 14 runoff. I have found the PDF of the application and am fortunate enough to have a printer. But it also requires a copy of my driver’s license. Do I have to go find a photocopier?”
A pretty fair question, especially during a pandemic. But Alabama’s Secretary of State, our top elections officer who is responsible for making sure our state’s elections are safe, fair, accessible, and accurate, responded, “People that have a hard time figuring out the answer to that question probably need to vote in person.”
Merrill then doubled down, tweeting at a reporter who shared his catty response, “When I come to your house and show you how to use your printer I can also teach you how to tie your shoes and to tie your tie. I could also go with you to Walmart or Kinko’s and make sure that you know how to get a copy of your ID made while you’re buying cigarettes or alcohol.” All class.
Ironically, it turns out that gentleman who asked the question about the photocopier is employed by – you guessed it – the Sierra Club. Coincidence? I don’t think so. I believe Merrill used his public office to vindictively attack the employer of the guy whose innocent tweet caused the Secretary of State to lose his cool.
And speaking of John Merrill’s Twitter account, he is currently being sued for selectively blocking people while actively using it to promote to his official duties as Secretary of State. President Trump lost a similar case, when a federal court ruled the First Amendment prohibits an official who uses a social media account for government purposes from excluding people from an “otherwise open online dialogue.”
It’s only a matter of time before Merrill will be tripping over his shoelaces again because he certainly hasn’t learned how to keep them tied.