674 voters in Alabama switched parties between the Democratic Senate primary and the Republican runoff. Now the Alabama Republican secretary of state is trying to send all of them to prison for five years.
In May, Alabama passed a new law banning crossover voting. The new law says that if an Alabama citizen votes in the primary of one party they cannot vote in the primary runoff of the other party.
The GOP primary runoff at the end of September between Luther Strange and Roy Moore was the first election affected by the new law. According to Secretary of State John Merrill, 674 people voted in both the August Democratic primary and the Republican runoff. And now he’s trying to send all of them to prison for five years and make them pay a $15,000 fine.
Democrats are arguing that Merrill didn’t do enough to educate voters about the new law ahead of the September 26 vote. They’re also arguing that county election officials should’ve stopped people from crossover voting at the polls.
A concern now is that this threat to prosecute will suppress the vote by scaring people into believing that they can’t vote in the Senate general election on December 12 between Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones.
The executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, Randall Marshall, said that he was “stunned” that Merrill is trying to prosecute the crossover voters.
“This is a brand new law,” Marshall said. “People have been allowed in Alabama to crossover vote prior to this special election.”
“Crossover voting should not have been permitted to even occur,” he added. “Instead of putting it on the backs of voters and effectively chilling the right to vote going forward for fear of doing something that gets you put in prison for five years, this is a strong message from the state that we don’t care about your right to vote.”
On Tuesday, Merrill told ThinkProgress that he wants to charge all 674 voters with a felony and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.
“If these people knowingly and willfully voted because they didn’t like the law, they thought the law was wrong, they thought the law was stupid, they didn’t think the law should be enforced, our intentions are to identify those people, fully investigate them, if it’s warranted to have them indicted, to have them prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” 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.”
Merrill concedes that most of the crossover votes were likely because people didn’t know about the new law. But he insists that ignorance is no excuse.
Merrill has given Alabama elections officials until November 6 to examine the list of 674 crossover voters and find any errors. According to a memo sent out by the secretary of state’s office, “Unless our office receives notification from your county that certain voters should not be on this listing of crossover voters, we will submit the list as-is to the proper authority to begin investigation and possible prosecution.”