HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Nearly 700 Alabama voters could be facing up to 10 years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines. Their crime? Voting in the wrong runoff election.
Just seven lines of legal code adopted last year, makes all the difference.
It's the Crossover Voting Ban, that makes it illegal for someone who votes in one party's primary to vote in the runoff of another party. The first test of the law was the recent special election primary to replace Jeff Sessions' Senate Seat.
Over the weekend, Secretary of State John Merrill released the number of violators of the law.
Jefferson County leads the state with 380 people accused of crossover voting. Madison County had the second most, with 63 reports. The next highest was Montgomery County with 34. In all, 674 people are accused of breaking the law.
“It’s the first time we did it, and he expected perfection because he didn’t tell people how it was going to work," says Tom Ryan, the Chairman of the Madison County Democratic Party.
Ryan says Secretary Merrill failed to effectively do his job - to properly educate voters.
“If he had property educated the election officials that person would not have been allowed to vote, or at most, only been allowed to vote a provisional ballot. None of those provisional ballots were counted," says Ryan.
Merrill told WHNT News 19 over the phone, even filing provisional ballots that didn't count, can still be considered voter fraud. Madison County Republican Party Chairman Sam Givhan put it this way.
“Didn’t mean to be going 80 mph down the interstate, may have gotten away from you or something like that but you still did it. So I’m not sure that’s going to provide an adequate defense for somebody accused of that," says Givhan.
So what comes next for the 63 Madison County residents accused of voter fraud? The decision rests at the local level. District Attorney Rob Broussard has to decide whether or not he wants to prosecute any or all of the cases.
The DA told WHNT News 19, his office has not received the names of the accused voters yet and won't weigh in until they do.
Merrill says that's because the names have to be verified by the county's Probate Judge.
Tom Ryan asserts this is a thinly veiled attempt at keeping certain voters from the polls.
“Perhaps Secretary Merrill should change his title from Secretary of State to Secretary of Voter Suppression," says Ryan.
Givhan responded to that by saying, "I think that is absolutely absurd. It’s not a voter suppression situation if someone wants to vote and elect a Republican nominee they need to vote in a Republican primary."
While the two chairmen disagree on the law itself, there is on factor in which they do see eye to eye - not prosecuting after the very first election.
“It seems to me that this would be a good learning opportunity rather than going into strict compliance at this point in time," says Givhan.
What happens to the 674 voters in question may completely depend on where they live, and what those DAs decide.
It's important to note, crossover voting doesn't have any impact on who you can vote for in the General Election.