Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, 54, decided he wanted to serve as Alabama’s chief election officer when he was 14.
Since then, he has worked his way through Alabama’s political landscape serving in offices from the Tuscaloosa Chamber of Commerce to the Alabama House of Representatives.
“When I was 14 is when I decided I wanted to be secretary of State,” Merrill said. “So, I have been working toward that goal for a long time.”
From 2010 to 2014, Merrill served as the representative for Alabama House District 62, which includes Tuscaloosa, where he settled after attending the University of Alabama. He was elected to serve as Alabama’s secretary of state in 2014 and is now seeking re-election for a second term.
Merrill and the staff at the secretary of state’s office have accomplished several things in his four-year term, but there is just more to be done, he said.
Sign up for our newsletter
Get The Plainsman straight to your inbox.
“We’ve done a lot. We’ve pushed the record,” Merrill said. “We’ve registered more people to vote than anytime in the history of the state. We now have more registered voters than anytime in the history of the state.”
During his time in the office, his staff has decreased by 11 people, but efficiency has increased.
And Merrill’s job doesn’t just include registering voters and running elections, he also handles business filings and other record-keeping processes.
Merrill gave the example of business filings to showcase his office’s newfound efficiency.
When he took office, the secretary of state’s office was several months behind in processing business filings. As of last Friday, the office has gone 122 consecutive weeks with handling same-day filing and processing for business filings.
It’s not just about the numbers and the efficiency for Merrill. He wants to be a resource for all Alabamians, which is why he lists his cellphone number on his social media and other platforms.
“It gives me the privilege to help the 4.8 million Alabamians that reside in our state,” Merrill said. “Whenever they have an issue they can’t resolve for themselves and they need assistance, I pride myself on being the most accessible elected official in the state.”
This is one of the reasons Merrill is active on social media. It is one of the main ways he keeps Alabamians informed about what he and the secretary of state’s office are doing.
But Merrill’s social media activity has also drawn scrutiny. Merrill is currently being sued for blocking three Alabamians on Twitter. The case was filed in the Middle District of Alabama U.S. District Court in late September.
Merrill said he believes the lawsuit is politically motivated and designed to draw negative attention to his blocking because the people named were blocked in 2017 and did not attempt to contact him in any other way until the lawsuit in September 2018.
“They were all informed that if they continued along that line of communication they would be blocked,” Merrill said. “And they were all informed that if they chose to, they could contact me on my cellphone.”
Merrill chooses to focus on his office’s successes.
When Merrill took office in January 2015, there were just over 3 million people registered to vote in Alabama.
As of September, which is the last time the voter registration numbers have been updated on the secretary of state’s website, 3.43 million people have registered to vote in Alabama.
“We have raised the awareness of voter education and participation unlike anybody in the history of this office,” Merrill said. “We will continue to educate voters through small groups as we have done around the state as well as in large settings as well as through press releases, social media and make sure they are informed about the elections process.”
Merrill said he plans to continue to get more Alabamian’s registered to vote and get them to the polls if he is re-elected.
While serving as the chief election officer in Alabama, he has ensured every board of registrars office in Alabama is open the same hours as the court houses.
Photo IDs have been required since the 2014 elections, which has also drawn scrutiny from Democrats, but Merrill said he has made significant efforts to ensure Alabamians have the proper identification to vote.
“We also go wherever we’re invited by legislators, other elected officials who are interested or other concerned citizens that reach out to our office and ask us to go to a specific location to offer the photo ID,” Merrill said.
Merrill has also gone to individual homes to give people photo IDs if they are unable to make it to the board of registrar’s office or to the mobile unit when it is in their county.
“No state has done what we’ve done in delivering photo IDs,” Merrill said. “And no state in the Union has done what we’ve done in the same period of time to register voters, which is why we’ve led the nation in per capita voter registration since I became the secretary.”
Election security is another large topic of conversation for the chief election officer.
Alabama’s election security is one of the best in the nation because of the state’s relationship with their public and private partners, Merrill said.
“Our system has never been compromised,” Merrill said. “No vulnerabilities have been exposed, and we continue to be a national leader in election security and integrity.”
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.Support The Plainsman