On Wednesday, March 4th, 2020, John Hammontree, managing producer of Reckon by AL.com, wrote an opinion article decrying the fact that the state of Texas has closed over 750 polling places since the Supreme Court decided Shelby County v. Holder. This landmark decision says that states with long histories of racial discrimination and voter suppression no longer have to get preclearance from the Justice Department to make changes to their voting situations. The Shelby County v. Holder decision, which came down in 2013, paved the way for all sorts of changes to be made to the way votes are cast in America, but it particularly changed things in the south. Before the Shelby County v. Holder decision came down, southern states had to submit any changes they wanted to make (ie: changing a polling place, instituting voter ID requirements, or changing their district lines) to the U.S. Justice Department for permission from the government to make those changes.
On Thursday, March 5th, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill felt it was necessary to respond directly to the opinion article written by Hammontree. Secretary Merrill gave this statement: “Yesterday afternoon an article was published on AL.com falsely asserting that ‘Alabama broke the elections in Texas’ all because of the ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. While a courageous Texas man by the name of Hervis Rogers did wait for nearly seven hours outside of Texas Southern University to cast his ballot, Alabama cannot be blamed for the high turnout and lack of voting machines at that particular polling place. To connect this problem to the ruling of Shelby County v. Holder is inappropriate and a disservice to the people of Alabama who have fought to keep the power of the people at the local level. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the requirement for states to be subject to the preclearance regulations outlined in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was outdated and no longer necessary, giving the power back to local governments and states to administer their own elections without federal oversight. This ruling allowed local election officials to make adjustments to their own jurisdictions without having to receive permission from the federal government – thus removing an additional layer of bureaucracy. What sense does it make to have someone who has never even visited Wilcox County determine where in the county a polling location should be? Upon consultation with other community leaders and members, the Probate Judge, who oversees the county election, should be able to establish the location(s) that would be most accommodating and convenient to the voters in that area. Since 2013, polling places in Alabama have only been moved at the request of the local Probate Judge and County Commission for the purpose of making voting as easy and accessible as possible to voters. Hammontree’s claim that ‘Voting rates for black citizens actually began to decline in 2016, the first presidential election to occur after the Shelby ruling.’ is an absolute fallacy. In actuality, we have shattered every record in the history of the state for minority registration and participation. Since 1994, we have increased the number of African American registered voters in the state from 479,415 to 874,406, as of January 31, 2020, which is an increase of 82%. It should also be noted that 96% of all eligible African Americans in the state are registered to vote. Mr. Hammontree is, indeed, entitled to his own opinions, but he is not entitled to his own facts.”
Reached by BamaNewsNow.com late Thursday, John Hammontree of AL.com responded with the following statement: “I thank the Secretary of State for reading my columns. The increase in African American voter registration is something we both celebrate, and I commend all of the organizations and activists that have worked so tirelessly to increase registration and turnout. I believe it’s cynical and irresponsible to recharacterize the civil rights movement as an effort to keep power at the local level because it was very much the opposite. The marches in Selma and the blood shed across the state of Alabama were local campaigns designed to have national impact and they did. I believe Mr. Merrill knows this and has been told as much by modern day civil rights leaders like Rev. Dr. William Barber. If the ruling were simply a net good, why would the Supreme Court advise Congress to revise the preclearance laws and update the Voting Rights Act? Alabama’s ballot access is routinely listed among the worst in the country and I hope Mr. Merrill will use his bully pulpit to encourage the state and country to take steps to rectify that. And I hope next time he’ll hyperlink to my column.”