The Republican runoff for Alabama secretary of state features two candidates who have expressed concerns about the integrity of the election and voter rolls while opposing the expansion of early or mail-in voting.
One candidate, State Auditor Jim Zeigler, is backed by a key supporter of former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen and the other, State Representative Wes Allen , promises to withdraw from a national system for sharing voter registration data. .
The two face off Tuesday for the GOP nomination for Secretary of State, the state’s top election official. The winner will face Democratic candidate Pamela J. Laffitte, a Mobile police officer, in November.
Interest in Secretary of State contests across the country has grown in the wake of the 2020 election as Republicans campaign on suspicion of voter fraud and, in some cases, deny the outcome of the last presidential election .
Zeigler has joined the “Coalition of America’s First Secretary of State,” a slate of candidates who continue to question the legitimacy of the 2020 election, and is backed by Trump ally Mike Lindell, the founder of MyPillow. Several America First candidates have secured GOP nominations, including Jim Marchant in Nevada, a key political battleground. Another candidate, Jody Hice, lost in Georgia as Trump tried unsuccessfully to unseat Georgian Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
“I am not an election denier. I am an electoral questioner. There are a lot of questions about the 2020 election,” Zeigler said in an interview.
Allen is a former probate judge who oversaw county-level elections and a current member of the Alabama Legislative Assembly. In the House of Representatives, Allen has sponsored bills to ban curbside voting as well as donations outside election offices — legislation fueled by conservative suspicions of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s donations to help electoral offices to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
“A core function of our government is to administer safe, secure and transparent elections and we can do that. I just don’t think we need this private money infiltrating the local jurisdictions that oversee our elections,” he said. Allen said.
The League of Women Voters of Alabama, Black Voters Matter and other groups opposed the ban on donations, calling it a possible voter suppression measure that would hurt the state’s poorest counties by barring them from accept grants and other aid.
Allen also championed a proposal to remove Alabama from the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC. The system allows the 31 participating states to securely share voter registration data so they know if someone has moved to another state or died and remove them from their list.
“They’re outsourcing who does our voter registration information. So on Day 1, I’ll start the process to get us out of ERIC,” Allen said. Zeigler said he would reconsider participation in ERIC but did not campaign to pull out.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, also a Republican, said the push to withdraw from ERIC would actually compromise election security because of its importance in maintaining clean voter rolls. He said the system had “no instances” of known issues.
Merrill, who cannot run again due to term limits, said he was discouraged by the campaign’s tendency to cast doubt on the integrity of elections and registration maintenance systems.
“It worries me because it creates potential problems in people’s minds. When this happens, it can actually put people in a defensive posture and think that if their candidate loses, “Well, the reason my candidate lost is because my candidate got cheated.” It could just be that you have a bad candidate, or your candidate isn’t very well funded, or your candidate doesn’t have a good plan for a political campaign. Merrill said.
Allen was one of the few probate judges in Alabama who stopped issuing marriage licenses to anyone to avoid giving them to same-sex couples after the federal court ruled that same-sex couples had the right to marry. The couples had to travel to a nearby county until lawmakers changed the process. As a member of the Alabama Legislative Assembly, he also sponsored legislation, currently blocked by a federal judge from coming into effect, that made it a crime to treat transgender minors with puberty blockers or hormones.
Zeigler was elected state auditor in 2014 and cannot be reelected due to term limits. Although the state auditor’s role is to track state assets and he has limited official duties, Zeigler has turned the office into a public platform to play Republican administration fly-fishing. In 2016, Zeigler filed an ethics complaint against the then governor. Robert Bentley, accusing him of misusing state resources after leaked audio of the governor having a romantic conversation with a senior official.
“As State Auditor, I have served as a public watchdog against government waste, mismanagement and corruption. As Secretary of State, I will serve as a watchdog for the integrity and participation in elections,” he said.
Allen and Zeigler both oppose expanding voting beyond Election Day, such as early voting or allowing people to vote by mail without certifying an illness or travel-related reason.
Democratic candidate in the race, Laffitte, said Alabama should join the majority of states that allow early voting or no-excuse mail-in voting. People in both parties are busy with work, childcare and other obligations, she argued, and would benefit from more convenient voting methods. She said voter turnout was low in Alabama because “we continue to run things like we’re racing in the days of the dinosaurs.”