May 22, 2015
Should Alabama adopt online voter registration?
Currently, if you want to register to vote in Alabama, you have to fill out a form and send it in to the Board of Registrars or go by the office in person. In more than half the states in the U.S., however, registration is as simple as going online.
Twenty states have implemented online voter registration so far, NPR reported, with seven other states and the District of Columbia in the process of doing so now. Proponents maintain online registration is not only easier and more efficient, it's also considerably cheaper.
In Arizona, for example, it costs only 3 cents to register someone online versus 83 cents on paper. -- It's cheap, it's easy and everybody is doing it: Another idea for Alabama | AL.com
Legislature moves the presidential primary date one week earlier
AL.com reports: The Alabama Legislature passed a bill that will allow the state to enter the "SEC presidential primary" set for March 1, 2016.
Moving the primary up a week is expected to make Alabama a bigger player in election process; it allows Alabama to join circuit of southern states to attract more visits from presidential candidates. -- Alabama to join 'SEC primary' for 2016 presidential election | AL.com
May 17, 2015
Former chief justice says money is now king of Alabama judicial races
AP reports: The phones rang. The donations flowed.
Former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb in 2006 won one of the most expensive judicial races in American history. Cobb, however, is no fan of the pricey system that got her to be the state's top jurist.
The high-dollar races that have judicial candidates dialing for dollars are tawdry, she said, and the donations that judicial candidates must solicit from law firms and businesses that appear in their courtroom are something akin to "legalized extortion."
"To fully achieve the goal of having fair courts, there must be reform in how judges are selected," Cobb said in an interview with The Associated Press. -- Sue Bell Cobb: Money now king of Alabama judicial races | AL.com
May 6, 2015
Bill introduced to ban political contributions from gambling interests
AL.com reports: Shortly after Alabama House of Representatives Republican Caucus released its budget plan that includes a deal with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, other lawmakers today announced a bill to make it illegal for gambling interests to make contributions to a political candidate's campaign.
"I am not for legalizing gambling in Alabama," bill sponsor, Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, said. "However, with the recent discussions about possible legislation to expand gambling in the state, I believe it is important to prevent gambling lobbyists from influencing legislators through political contributions,"
Garrett's bill would make it illegal for a gambling interest, or a person or agent acting on behalf of a gambling interest, to make contributions to a politician's campaign or to a Political Action Committee.
Those contributions are currently allowed under current Alabama law, and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians are known to provide large contributions to political campaigns. Recent contributions weren't immediately available. -- Bill introduced to ban casinos from making contributions to Alabama politicians | AL.com
May 2, 2015
Bill seeks a photo ID just to ask for an absentee ballot plus one when casting the ballot
AL.com reports: The Alabama Secretary of State's Office is attempting to take its contentious voter ID law -- enacted in 2011 -- one step further by requiring a photo ID when requesting an absentee ballot.
Why? Republicans, by and large, say it's an extra measure to prevent voter fraud -- something that is hard to track and very hard to prove.
Democrats, however, aren't convinced. Rep. Darrio Melton, D-Selma, said continuing to file bills to combat voter fraud is "playing to the politics of fear." He filed a bill to let any registered voter cast an absentee ballot for any reason.
Rep. Reed Ingram, R-Montgomery, sponsored the absentee voter ID legislation on behalf of the Secretary of State. The bill, which exempts senior citizens, the disabled and military personnel, has about 20 Republican co-sponsors. -- Divisive absentee voter legislation set to come before Alabama House | AL.com
April 2, 2015
"Bill seeks Alabama entry into 'SEC primary' for 2016 presidential election
AL.com reports: The state of Alabama would enter the "SEC presidential primary" set for March 1, 2016, if a bill in the Senate is successful.
Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, is sponsoring the bill in the Senate that would move the U.S. presidential primary from the second Tuesday of March to the first Tuesday.
Senate bill 240 received a favorable report from the Senate Constitution, Ethics and Elections Committee today. It will now move on to the full Senate for consideration.
Ross called his piece of legislation "an economic stimulus bill" because it would help the state attract more visits from presidential candidates by allowing Alabama to join a circuit with other southern states. -- Alabama bill seeks state entry into 'SEC primary' for 2016 presidential election | AL.com
March 28, 2015
Congressmen Lewis, Hoyer, Clyburn, Conyers and Brady Reintroduce Voter Empowerment Act
From the website of Cong. John Lewis: Today, lead sponsors Rep. John Lewis (GA-5), House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD-5), Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (SC-6), Rep. John Conyers (MI-13), Rep. Robert Brady (PA-1) and more than 170 Democrats reintroduced the Voter Empowerment Act in the House of Representatives. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York will introduce a companion version in the Senate. The Voter Empowerment Act will help ensure equal access to the ballot for every eligible voter, will modernize our voter registration system to help more Americans participate, and takes steps to eliminate deceptive practices and voter fraud that deter voters from casting their ballots.
On March 21, 1965, thousands of protestors left Selma, Alabama and marched all the way to Montgomery to underscore the need for voting rights legislation which assured access to the ballot box for millions of Americans. Sponsors offer the VEA today as a continuation of the on-going effort to ensure that every American has an equal and fair opportunity to make their voices heard through the electoral process. At a time when some states have implemented or are planning to implement new barriers for voters who may be seniors, students, low-income Americans, members of our Armed Services, disabled, or speak English as a second language, Democrats see the need to certify their efforts to protect voting access for all Americans.
Click for a section by section description, quotes in support, or full bill text of the Voter Empowerment Act. -- Lewis, Hoyer, Clyburn, Conyers and Brady Reintroduce Voter Empowerment Act | The Website of Congressman John Lewis, Serving the 5th Congressional District of Georgia
Comment: I recommend you start with the 9-page section-by-section summary rather than the 167-page bill.
"State auditor asks for grand jury probe of Baldwin's use of taxpayer funds on election"
AL.com reports: Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler on Friday asked the Attorney General's Office to launch a criminal investigation into the Baldwin County school system's use of taxpayer funds to promote next week's property tax referendum.
The school system has spent tens of thousands of dollars on consultants, campaign materials and other expenses related to persuading people to renew property taxes totaling 7 mills and approve new levies equaling 8 mills. The last figure provided by the school system is $156,989.
In a letter to Attorney General Luther Strange, Zeigler indicated that he was acting on behalf of four Baldwin County residents in requesting that prosecutors convene a grand jury to investigate the use of taxpayer funds. If Strange agrees, it could result misdemeanor charges punishable by a maximum of a year in jail upon conviction.
"This needs to be stopped," Zeigler said in an interview. "Regardless of the outcome of the vote March 31, this needs to be stopped." -- State auditor asks for grand jury probe of Baldwin's use of taxpayer funds on election | AL.com
March 26, 2015
US Supreme Court vacates Alabama's win on redistricting plan, remands for new proceedings
The New York Times reports: The Supreme Court on Wednesday sided with black and Democratic lawmakers in Alabama who said the State Legislature had relied too heavily on race in its 2012 state redistricting by maintaining high concentrations of black voters in some districts.
The vote was 5 to 4, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy joining the court?s four more liberal members to form a majority.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer, writing for the majority, said a lower court had erred in considering the case on a statewide basis rather than district by district. He added that the lower court had placed too much emphasis on making sure that districts had equal populations and had been "too mechanical" in maintaining existing percentages of black voters.
The Supreme Court vacated the lower court's ruling and sent the two consolidated cases -- Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, No. 13-895, and Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama, No. 13-1138 -- back to it for reconsideration.
Richard L. Hasen, an expert on election law at the University of California, Irvine, said Wednesday's decision might represent only a short-term victory for the plaintiffs.
"It seems likely on remand that at least some of Alabama's districts will be found to be racial gerrymanders," he wrote in a blog post. "This means that some of these districts will have to be redrawn to 'unpack' some minority voters from these districts."
"But do not be surprised," he continued, "if Alabama pre-empts the lawsuit by drawing new districts which are less racially conscious but still constitute a partisan gerrymander which helps the Republicans have greater control over the Alabama legislative districts." --Supreme Court Rules Against Alabama in Redistricting Case - NYTimes.com
Disclosure: I am one of the counsel for the prevailing Alabama Legislative Black Caucus in one of the two consolidated cases. James U. Blacksher (of Birmingham) is lead counsel, Eric Schnapper (U of Washington Law School) argued in the Supreme Court, and UW Clemon (of Birmingham) is also on the team.
Prof. Rick Hasen's analysis of the case is here.
March 25, 2015
Riley's PAC made independent expenditures, but asks candidates to report in-kind contributions
Alabama Political Reporter reports: Former Governor's Political Action Committee asked candidates to declare "in-kind" contributions they never requested or received.
According to the letters exchanged between then Senate candidate Clyde Chambliss and Jeremiah Mosley, Treasurer of former Gov. Bob Riley's Alabama 2014 PAC, the PAC gave Chambliss over $40,000 in in-kind contributions, which the candidate says he never authorized.
Not only did Chambliss say the expenditures were not authorized, but the content of the mailers sent on his behalf violated his campaign promises.
In his letter dated July 30, 2014, Chambliss wrote, "These mail pieces were attacks on my opponent which arrived in the mail addressed to voters in my district at the same time that I was running campaign advertising and making public statements and speeches in which I pledged to run a clean and positive campaign. As a result of the mail pieces sent out by Alabama 2014 PAC, many voters in my district believe that I lied to them. I have had many of these voters contact me and advise me that they planned to vote for me but did not vote because of the negative mailers."
According to a letter dated July 11, 2014, Riley's PAC said it had provided Chambliss with $8,500.00 for survey and $35,916.76 for mailers. "These amounts need to be reported to the Secretary of State in your next financial report," wrote Mosley. -- Candidates Deny In-Kind Contributions from Riley PAC
March 21, 2015
Mobile license commission gave office email list to candidate for mayor
AL.com reports: In the days leading up to election night of a hotly contested mayoral race, Mobile County License Commissioner Kim Hastie allegedly leaked thousands of private taxpayer email addresses from a county database to the mayoral campaign of Sandy Stimpson.
Now that Hastie is facing a federal criminal charge on the matter, the architects of Stimpson's winning campaign maintain that their actions were by the book. ...
Five days before the April 2013 mayoral election, Hastie and Yeager met with License Commission employees in August 2013 and Hastie instructed one of them to email "everyone within Mobile's city limits" a statement from her endorsing Stimpson, court records show.
The employee warned Hastie that sending out an email would be "improper" and cautioned her against it, according to court records. Hastie then directed the employee to retrieve and download email addresses of Mobile County residents onto a flash drive. -- 'The list came to the campaign': Stimpson electioneers talk Kim Hastie's alleged last-minute email scheme | AL.com
March 17, 2015
"Alabama Secretary of State announces partnership to investigate, prosecute voter fraud"
AL.com reports: The Alabama Secretary of State's Office has partnered with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and Attorney General's Office to investigate and prosecute allegations of voter fraud or campaign finance irregularities.
Secretary of State John Merrill said authorities will accept complaints about elections or Fair Campaign Practice Act irregularities starting from the June 2014 primary election, July 2014 runoff and the November 2014 general election. Campaign financing the year prior to those elections will also be investigated.
Merrill announced the launch of the Alabama Election Fairness Project today at a press conference held at the Attorney General's Office.
A hotline and an email address have been set up to accept complaints.
The Secretary of State's office can be notified at www.sos.alabama.gov or www.alabamavotes.gov. Complaints can be made at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-274-VOTE (8683). -- Alabama Secretary of State announces partnership to investigate, prosecute voter fraud | AL.com
February 28, 2015
Prosecutors lay out some evidence against Hubbard
AL.com reports: A filing today by special prosecutors cites evidence and emails that portray Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard as a man who, despite wearing the fine cloth of one of the state's most powerful men, teetered on the brink of financial collapse and desperately pleaded with friends, lobbyists and principals for money and jobs in a way that put him on the wrong side of the law.
Hubbard was indicted last year on 23 felony counts of using his office for personal gain. The revelations today come in response to a motion by Hubbard's defense team to more specifically describe the charges against the Speaker.
The filing and the cited evidence indicate Hubbard was facing tremendous financial pressure. After being elected Speaker in 2010, he was laid off by his primary employer, Auburn's IMG Sports Network. His own company, Craftmaster, failed to pay employee withholding taxes to the federal government in 2011, which led to the company defaulting on a $600,000 loan from Regions Bank personally guaranteed by Hubbard. -- Stunning emails paint Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard as desperate for money, favors | AL.com
Comment: Lots of emails, checks, business documents, etc. are attached to the story.
February 11, 2015
"Is Hubbard Breaking The Law With Criminal Defense Payments?"
Alabama Political Reporter has this analysis: Over the last year, Hubbard has used around $300,000 in campaign contributions from his personal account to pay his criminal defense team. Hubbard has never publicly addressed this issue, however, several news outlets around the State have noted that he was using the funds in accordance with former Attorney General Bill Pryor's opinion issued in 2000.
In the opinion, Pryor drew the conclusion that, "Excess campaign funds may be used by an incumbent office holder to pay legal fees incurred pursuant to the defense of a criminal indictment if the indictment is related to the performance of the duties of the office held."
There are two parts to this statement by the former Attorney General. First, the funds must be "excess campaign funds." The second, is that the indictment must be "related to the performance of the duties of the office held."
Hubbard is the Representative of District 79, he is also the Speaker of the House; which of the 23 felonies charges against him are related to the performance of the duties of the office? -- Is Hubbard Breaking The Law With Criminal Defense Payments?
February 3, 2015
Hubbard spending campaign funds on criminal defense
AP reports: Indicted Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard has used campaign funds to pay nearly $300,000 in legal fees over the last year as he fights felony ethics charges of using his public offices for personal gain.
Campaign records filed in January show that the Auburn Republican spent about $291,000 in legal fees since December 2013. Most of it, $221,475 was spent on the firm of his lead attorney, Birmingham lawyer Mark White. Hubbard also spent $65,135 with the Pell City law firm of Trussell, Funderburg, Rea and Bell.
White said the payments are in compliance with Alabama law and advisory opinions from the attorney general's office.
A 2000 opinion by the attorney general's office advised that elected officials can pay criminal defense costs out of excess campaign finance funds if the accusations are related to how the person performed in office. Most of the charges against Hubbard relate to his position in the House of Representatives. However, others relate to his time as chairman of the Alabama Republican Party. -- Indicted Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard spent $300,000 in campaign funds on legal fees | AL.com
January 16, 2015
"Why Obama Should Pardon Don Siegelman"
Jeffrey Toobin writes in the New Yorker: Since the midterm elections, President Barack Obama has been acting as if he feels liberated from parochial political concerns. After taking action on immigration, Cuba, and climate change, he should take on another risky, if less well-known, challenge by commuting the prison sentence of Don Siegelman, the former governor of Alabama. ...
Through six years in office, President Obama has been especially stingy in granting pardons and commutations. But the power to grant clemency is an important one; it should be wielded with care, but it should be used. Our prisons are nearly full. Not everyone who is there belongs there. Don Seigelman is one person who should not be incarcerated anymore, and the President can and should make sure that he is freed. -- Why Obama Should Pardon Don Siegelman - The New Yorker
January 12, 2015
The slow drip to one less Congressperson
AL.com reports: Alabama currently has seven Congressional districts, each represented by a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. It's had seven seats since 1973 after they were carved out based on data following the 1970 census. The number remain the same following the 2010 Census, but a new study by Election Data Services shows a possible change could be coming in 2020.
If Alabama's rate of population growth remains the same through 2010, EDS projects it would lose a House seat after the next census, dropping from seven to six. -- Alabama could have one less Congress member after 2020: Sunday's Wake Up Call | AL.com
January 8, 2015
"AP's Alabama political reporter Phillip Rawls retiring"
The Montgomery Advertiser reports: Associated Press reporter Phillip Rawls, the longest-serving member of Alabama's Capitol press corps and a recognized expert on state politics, is retiring after more than 35 years with the news cooperative.
Rawls, 63, developed a reputation for fairness and accuracy during a 40-year career in journalism, nearly all of it spent with the AP covering politics and government in Montgomery.
Rawls' tenure spanned seven Alabama governors, from George Wallace to Robert Bentley, and 35 regular sessions of the Legislature. His retirement takes effect later this month. -- AP's Alabama political reporter Phillip Rawls retiring
January 4, 2015
2014 Election is over, but fundraising goes on
The Decatur Daily reports: Alabama's 2014 elections are in the books, but fundraising is not over for some elected officials and those who had hoped to be elected.
State law gives candidates 120 days after elections to collect money from individuals and political action committees to cover debts, including repayment of loans to their campaigns. ...
Candidates can loan themselves money regardless of their account balances. Stewart said a confident candidate could use a loan — knowing they're going to get the money back — to get a jumpstart on fundraising in four years.
"Once one election is over, candidates are immediately thinking about the next one," Stewart said. "(Having additional money) would be the most desirable situation from the candidate's point of view." -- Fundraising for ?14 politicians ongoing - Decatur Daily: News
December 28, 2014
The Washington Post has two articles on the movie "Selma." The first -- Rep. John Lewis on "Selma" and the memories it brings to life -- explains why I have to go see the movie. The second -- The movie ‘Selma’ has a glaring flaw by Joseph Califano -- explains why I may be somewhat upset when I leave the theater.
The Montgomery Advertiser editorializes: Voters often complain about what they see as a lack of meaningful choice on the ballot, about rarely having the chance to vote for someone other than a Republican or a Democrat. Because Alabama has some of the most stringent ballot access laws in the country, that's not likely to change without an overdue revision of the rules.
Those rules protect the interests of the two major parties, not the interests of the voters and certainly not the interests of third-party or independent candidates. Readers of a certain age may recall Gov. George Wallace's derisive snarl that there wasn't "a dime's worth of difference" between the major parties. That may no longer be true philosophically, but it's definitely true in terms of ballot access.
In order to get a spot on the statewide ballot, a third-party or independent candidate faces unjustifiable obstacles. Candidates of the Democratic and Republican parties appear automatically on the ballot, but a third-party candidate enjoys that privilege only if his or her party received at least 20 percent of the vote in the previous general election. That's all but impossible, given the dominance of the two major parties and the difficulty in getting on the ballot in the first place. -- Alabama's ballot access laws too restrictive
December 25, 2014
Should Alabama join the "Super SEC" presidential primary?
The Montgomery Advertiser opines: In presidential election years, Alabamians rarely catch sight of the contenders. There's the occasional fund-raiser or quick press conference at an airport, but the candidates don't spend much time here.
That might change in 2016, however, if our state becomes part of a "Super SEC" presidential primary proposal that would move the balloting in several states linked to the football league to the same date. Alabama's political influence likely will never match its football influence, but the plan could make the state a bigger player in the process.
The idea is being pushed by Brian Kemp, Georgia's secretary of state. Jim Bennett, Alabama's outgoing secretary of state, has called on his counterparts in Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina to support the plan. Although Bennett won't be in office when the Legislature convenes next year, he has said he will urge his successor, John Merrill, to support it as well.
Alabama's 2016 primary is scheduled for March 8. Action by the Legislature would be needed to move it to the "Super SEC" date of March 1, the scheduled date for presidential primaries in Tennessee, Florida and Texas. It's a step worth taking to bring at least some of the big day's action to Alabama, and Merrill should support it. -- Joining the 'Super SEC' primary would help state
Alabama Supreme Court guilty of sloppy bookkeeping
AL.com reports: A state audit accused the Alabama Supreme Court of years of sloppy financial practices, including leaving thousands of dollars in checks uncashed, and underpaying its own members.
The report, released by the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts this month, said the clerk's office failed to deposit $61,050 in checks from October 2009 through September 2013. ...
The Supreme Court routinely failed to make deposits and reconcile its two checking accounts for four years ending in 2013, the audit said.
"Performed correctly, monthly bank reconciliations allow entities to compare their accounting and banking records in order to expose any discrepancies. Not performing regular bank reconciliations increases the possibility of undetected loss due to error or theft," the examiner report said. -- The Alabama Supreme Court isn't too good with handling money, audit finds | AL.com
December 24, 2014
"What 'Selma' Gets Wrong"
Historian Mark K. Updegrove writes in POLITICO Magazine: For historians, watching a movie "based on" historical events often is an exercise in restraint. While the historian and filmmaker are both, by nature, storytellers, the former builds a narrative based on fact while the latter often bends truth for the sake of a story's arc or tempo. Historians are wise to resist their pedantic urges and yield to a film's creative license--as long as it doesn't compromise the essence of the subject at hand.
To that end, Paramount Pictures' ambitious "Selma," depicting the bloody civil rights campaign in Selma, Alabama, gets much right. The film humanizes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the colossal burden he faced in 1965 leading a fractious movement that was so perilous for his flock. But "Selma" misses mightily in faithfully capturing the pivotal relationship--contentious, the film would have you believe--between King and President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
In the film, President Johnson resists King's pressure to sign a voting rights bill, which--according to the movie's take--is getting in the way of dozens of other Great Society legislative priorities. Indeed, "Selma's" obstructionist LBJ is devoid of any palpable conviction on voting rights. Vainglorious and power hungry, he unleashes his zealous pit bull, FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, on King, who is determined to march in protest from Selma to Montgomery despite LBJ's warning that it will be "open season" on the protesters.
This characterization of the 36th president flies in the face of history. In truth, the partnership between LBJ and MLK on civil rights is one of the most productive and consequential in American history. -- What ?Selma? Gets Wrong - Mark K. Updegrove - POLITICO Magazine
Comment: Read this short commentary before you go see "Selma."
Alabama plans to require citizenship-proof fromr voter-registration applicants
AL.com reports: of Alabama Secretary of State Jim Bennett's last acts will be to try to implement one of the last provisions of the state's controversial immigration law that has not already been resolved - a requirement that voters show proof of citizenship to register.
Under that provision of the 2011 law, known as HB 56, people must show a driver's license or some other valid form of identification in order to register to vote. But the state never implemented it while lawyers fought over the legality of the law's broader measures, which sought to crack down on illegal immigration.
The federal courts invalidated most of that law, and the state last year reached a permanent settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, agreeing to permanently black enforcement of seven provisions. Bennett announced last week, though, that the state will press ahead with the citizenship requirement now that the U.S. Senate has confirmed nominees to fill long-vacant seats on the Election Assistance Commission. That is the organization that must agree to change the federal voter registration form to comply with the state requirements.
Under the law, birth certificates, Star Alabama driver's license or nondriver ID cards, passports, naturalization documents or other documents showing U.S. citizenship would be acceptable. -- ?One of last vestiges of gutted immigration law, Alabama pushes voters for citizenship proof | AL.com