HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - One sponsor of the new crossover voting law says it's "ludicrous and laughable on its face" to prosecute crossover voters on felony charges, saying that puts crossover voting on the same level as some kinds of drug trafficking. However, other sponsors of the law supported Secretary of State John Merrill's efforts to see through the prosecutions.
The law in question prevents people from voting in one party's primary and then crossing over to vote in another party's primary runoff.
The Alabama Legislature`s measure blocking crossover voting, passed this year, didn`t spell out particular penalties, so the Secretary of State`s office is handling potential cases as vote fraud.
One of the law's sponsors, State Senator Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison), stands behind that interpretation, "I support the law that we passed; I support that there has to be a bite to the bark. If not what`s the value in passing particular legislation like this?"
But not all the bill sponsors agree with enforcing it as a Class C Felony, which carries up to 10 years in prison.
Take another Republican sponsor, State Senator Cam Ward (R-Central Alabama), who says, "I look at a felon as a drug trafficker or a murderer or a rapist, not necessarily someone who may have messed up and crossover voted."
The cases would be challenging to prosecute anyway, as voter fraud statutes in Alabama require prosecutors to show that voters acted with intent.
Defense attorneys have told us that would be incredibly difficult to prove in a crossover case without a confession.
Still, the Secretary of State has support in seeking prosecutions. Holtzclaw tells us, "I agree with the Secretary of State`s position, that it was a law, it was well-published in advance. Ignorance of the law is no excuse is an old saying that is valid with respect to this."
Senator Tom Whatley (R-Lee County), another sponsor of the crossover voting bill that became law, told us today that the decision on prosecuting should lie with local offices who would have to take the cases to court. Senator Del Marsh (R-Talladega), another sponsor, agreed with that assessment through a spokesperson. Both Whatley and Marsh confirmed the intent was always to make sure there was a punishment for crossover voting, which means felony enforcement.
That support is not unanimous even among bill sponsors though, with Ward arguing, "To waste our time and energy on prosecutions which aren`t gonna come to fruit, I think that`s a waste of time and I think it`s pretty much political grandstanding.
But Merrill says of the grandstanding claim, "I`d say people are entitled to their own opinion, but they`re not entitled to their own facts. And the facts are, each and every time that I've ever been involved in any instance, as a member of the Alabama legislature or as your Secretary of State, what we do is we follow the law, if we don`t like the law, we try to find a way to change the law."
Merrill said he is open to legislators revisiting the law. The Secretary of State said of the 674 reported instances of crossover voting, 380 have been discounted because of errors by a Jefferson County elections official. Merrill said reports are due to be sent to his office next week from elections officials in the 41 counties where a crossover voting instance was identified.
"I don’t think there’s a problem with the law," Merrill said. "There may need to be some consideration given to the penalty phase if someone has broken the law. If that has occurred, it’s like all other laws, we continue to evaluate assess and determine whether or not we need to try and change the law to make it more applicable for whatever was introduced."
Ward says he wouldn't be surprised to see lawmakers return to the law to clean up some language, "I think everyone would agree, `You know what maybe we need to amend it some to tighten up, to find what the actual sanctions are for violating this.'"
However, Senator Del Marsh, apart from being one of the sponsors of this law, is also the President Pro Tem of the Senate, meaning he has a lot of power in setting the agenda.
Marsh's spokesperson says Alabama leadership has not discussed revisiting the law.