Campaign Legal Center, Greater Birmingham Ministries Sue Alabama Secretary of State for Failure to Comply with National Voter Registration Act

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Birmingham, Alabama - Today, civil rights organization Greater Birmingham Ministries (GBM) filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama against Alabama Secretary of State, John H. Merrill, for violating the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) by refusing to produce records pertaining to purged voter lists and people denied the right to vote because of felony convictions.

As part of its organizational mission, GBM assists Birmingham community members with voter registration and restoration. This work requires the list of registered voters who were purged from the voter rolls following the 2020 election and the list of applicants who were denied voter registration or removed from the voter rolls because of past felony convictions. Under the NVRA, the Secretary is required to keep this data and disclose it upon request. Secretary Merrill, however, is refusing to produce some of the requested documents, and demanding payment for others, even though they are available in electronic form and should be produced free of charge. Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and McGuire & Associates, LLC are representing GBM.

“The freedom to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, and our democracy is stronger when more eligible voters can participate. Greater Birmingham Ministries helps ensure more Alabama citizens can make their voices heard,” said Paul Smith, senior vice president at Campaign Legal Center. “Sadly, it is clear that the court now needs to step in and protect that freedom by compelling the state to produce the lists Greater Birmingham Ministries needs to help ensure our elections are safe, accessible and transparent.”

“Alabama should end its shameful history of inequity in applying federal law only to some constituencies. Alabama must adopt a practice of complying with clearly lawful requests for information necessary to successfully assist qualified citizens as they return to their communities and participate in the fullness of civic engagement, including exercising the right to vote,” said Scott Douglas, executive director of Greater Birmingham Ministries. “The benefits of comprehensive re-integration accrue not only to formerly convicted persons, but also to our society as a whole. Unfortunately, Alabama officials continue to take a page from the Alabama Constitution of 1901 in seeking to deny African-Americans and poor citizens their right to vote and determine who leads our municipalities, counties and state.”

In 2017, Alabama passed a law clarifying what felony convictions take away a person’s right to vote. The law confirmed the eligibility of tens of thousands of Alabama citizens, who formerly lacked clarity on their right to vote. Secretary Merrill declined to notify affected citizens of the change, and many election officials remain confused about registering voters with past convictions. As a result, citizens with prior non-disqualifying convictions continue to report being wrongly denied voter registration more than five years later. Additionally, many citizens who do have disqualifying felony convictions are not aware they are eligible to have their voting rights restored.

GBM’s outreach efforts aim to identify and correct unlawful denials of voter registration, educate citizens with felony convictions of their eligibility to vote and assist them in accessing the ballot box. In order to accomplish this and ensure that all eligible applicants are registered to vote in Alabama, GBM requested a list of voters who were denied registration or purged from the rolls because of a felony conviction.

The court must ensure that the state produces lists of voters purged from the rolls and citizens who were removed or denied registration due to a felony conviction. This will enable good government and civil rights groups to continue to protect Alabama residents’ freedom to vote, ensure that voters’ voices are heard and guarantee that the state’s elections are safe and accessible for all.

At Campaign Legal Center, we are advancing democracy through law. Learn more about our work.