Alabama’s chief election official suggested nearly 700 people in the state may have committed voter fraud in an August runoff election, but a new review of records by local election judges shows that number is considerably exaggerated.
John Merrill (R), the Alabama secretary of state, sent the names of 674 people to election judges last month, saying his office believed they may have voted in the state’s Democratic primary and then in a GOP runoff between Sen. Luther Strange and Roy Moore in September for Strange’s U.S. Senate seat. The state banned this so-called crossover voting in May and the September runoff was the first time the law was in effect.
On Monday, the deadline for probate judges to submit their review of Merrill’s names, it’s clear the final number of those suspected of illegal voting will be far less than what the secretary of state claimed.
Of the cases Merrill submitted, 380 were from Jefferson County, the state’s most populous. Alan King, the county probate judge, said his office reviewed the records and found not a single incident of crossover voting.
King, a Democrat, said more than 300 of the cases Merrill suspected occurred in one precinct where the chief inspector crossed out the names of people who had voted in the Democratic primary ahead of the GOP runoff to indicate those who couldn’t vote. Merrill’s office misinterpreted those crossed-off names to be people who had actually cast a ballot, King said.
The 80 additional names submitted by Merrill resulted from scanning errors in the county registrar’s office or from poll workers who incorrectly circled voters’ party affiliation during the August primary.
Alabama “wasn’t set up to use a non-crossover vote system on Sept 26,” King, a member of President Donald Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, said in a text message. “Our vendor didn’t have time to program such a system and so counties had to prepare as best we could under a rushed set of circumstances.”
Officials in other counties also found scant evidence of actual crossover voting. Montgomery County Probate Judge Steven Reed told the Montgomery Advertiser that at least 14 of 34 of the names submitted by Merrill’s office were wrong, and his office wasn’t sure about the remaining 20. Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis told al.com the seven people submitted to his office did not commit illegal crossover voting.
Merrill’s office is reviewing the findings of the local judges and plans to issue a statement at the end of the week.
Merrill previously told ThinkProgress he thought anyone who broke the law should get no leniency and should face the maximum punishment of a $15,000 fine and 10 years in prison.
Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) has accused Merrill of trying to intimidate voters. Merrill accuses her of being uninformed about crossover voting.
“Reports that many of the crossover votes were marked in error clearly demonstrates widespread unfamiliarity” with the new law, Sewell told HuffPost Monday. She said it was “irrational and counterproductive to threaten Alabama voters with felony charges for not carefully complying with the new election law during its first implementation.”
King said Merrill had been too forceful in suggesting there was fraud before giving local officials a chance to review the names.
“This is a case of a new law without any public service announcements that I am aware of and people just not knowing, but he is threatened huge penalties and jail time,” King said. He added: “It wasn’t fair. It’s hard to unring a bell.”
Correction: An earlier version wrongly identified the source of some of the Jefferson County errors that led to accusations of crossover voting. The scanning errors occurred in the county registrar’s office, not in Merrill’s office.