Voters to pick new Alabama secretary of state

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Republican state Rep. John Merrill and Democrat Lula Albert-Kaigler face off Tuesday in the race for secretary of state, a campaign that has been quiet compared to the hard-fought GOP primary that saw a trio of candidates arguing over who was the most Republican.

Merrill, 50, is a Republican legislator from Tuscaloosa, a bank executive and former spokesman for the Tuscaloosa County school system.

Merrill said he wants to focus on fighting voter fraud and making the corporations division of the office, which process incorporation and other records, more efficient.

“When that trust and confidence is violated we want to make sure that the people are identified, investigated – indicted where it’s merited – and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.

The Tuscaloosa Republican said he supports Alabama’s new voter ID law, which requires voters to show a government-issued photo ID before casting a ballot. He believes the state has done a good job of getting free identification cards to people who do not have their own.

The process of filing paperwork to start a new business in Alabama can take a month, or longer, he said. He said other states accomplish the job in a day or a few days.

“If other states can do it same-day, we can do it same-day as well,” Merrill said.

Albert-Kaigler, a retired Army veteran, said Alabama should be able to vote by absentee ballot in any election. Currently, to vote by absentee, people must assert that they are ill or disabled, or will be out of the county or working a 10-hour shift during the election.

“I want it by request only. Just request it and it is yours. I don’t think you should have to come up with an excuse,” she said.

Albert-Kaigler said voters are busy, or live in rural areas, and that makes it difficult for them to get to the polls.

Albert-Kaigler said she wants to see the secretary of state’s office take on a role of voter education and provide voters with more information about issues and candidates. She envisions the office also mailing out sample ballots that include the pros, the cons and a fiscal analysis of proposed constitutional ballots. The office is open this year and has no incumbent. Former Secretary of State Beth Chapman, who was prohibited by law from seeking a third term, resigned in 2013. Gov. Robert Bentley appointed former Secretary of State Jim Bennett to fill the position through the end of Chapman’s term.

The secretary of state is Alabama’s top election official. The office is also responsible for maintaining a large number of government and corporate records.

Albert-Kaigler ran in a special election for the 1st Congressional District a year ago and lost in the Democratic primary.

Merrill unsuccessfully ran for the Legislature as a Democrat in 2002. He was elected as a Republican in 2010. Merrill is considered the heavy favorite in the state where Democrats currently hold no statewide office. He has raised nearly $500,000 for his campaign, while Albert-Kaigler hasn’t raised any contributions.

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