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Alabama Secretary of State under fire for automatic voter registration comments

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill is under fire for comments he made regarding automatic voter registration. During an interview, Secretary Merrill claimed automatic voter registration is a "sorry and lazy way out".

On Thursday, Southern Poverty Law Center President Robert Cohen called those comments cynical and ignorant.

"I don't think just because your birthday comes around that you should be registered to vote," Merrill told documentary director, Brian Jenkins.

"Secretary Merrill has said something like, just because you're 18 doesn't give you the right to vote. Of course, the 26th amendment says just the opposite," Cohen said.

In the documentary "Answering the Call", Secretary Merrill said he didn't want to cheapen the civil rights work done by congressman John Lewis and others.

"He's saying it would cheapen John Lewis' legacy to have automatic registration. John Lewis, who is a great American hero, who shed blood for voting rights, has said just the opposite," claimed Cohen.

Merrill tells WHNT News 19 he is aware Lewis is in favor of automatic voting.

"What I said was, that John Lewis was very proud of the work I'm doing in Alabama," said Merrill.

No matter what Merrill says he said, or didn't say, Cohen believes more work needs to be done.

"Secretary Merrill has the responsibility of protecting voting rights in Alabama. Given Alabama's history of denying voting rights, I think it's so important Alabama be in the forefront of doing everything possible to encourage and bring everyone into the democratic process," said Cohen.

Merrill tells WHNT News 19 he think there's an agenda behind those who are speaking out against him.

"I think it's a bunch of liberal trolls trying to raise the level of interest in the election for supporters of Secretary Clinton to motivate people to get out, Merrill said.

Secretary Merrill said he absolutely encourages Alabamians to exercise their right to vote. He said his office has set records by increasing the number of registered voters by nearly 585,000 voters in the past two years.

That brings the total number of registered voters in the state to 3.3 million.