Alabama’s Secretary of State Lets Loose with Partisan Attacks on Twitter

Republican Secretary of State John Merrill adopts his party’s favorite approach: anti-woman, anti-Democratic tirades on Twitter.

It’s no surprise that Alabama Republican Secretary of State John Merrill chose to engage in Twitter warfare with a number of Alabamians – most of them women – who have confronted him online about his policies and issue positions.

He is, after all, the Secretary of State who endorsed accused sexual predator Roy Moore for Alabama’s open U.S. Senate seat last December, after telling a TV interviewer, “I have not examined the evidence any more than you have…”

He’s the Secretary of State who argued in November 2016 that automatic voter registration “cheapens the work” of civil rights heroes like Rep. John Lewis, Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks – and that “just because you turn 18 doesn’t give you the right” to vote. (Huh? Oh, and John Lewis has advocated for automatic voter registration for the past 40 years.)

He’s also the Secretary of State who pushed for passage of a strict voter ID law that disproportionately disenfranchises low-income, minority and likely Democratic voters in Alabama.

And he’s the Secretary of State who is being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of three Alabama residents who assert that Merrill violated their First Amendment rights by blocking them from his official officeholder Twitter account. One had tweeted a question about crossover voting, one had posted a question about a speaking engagement, and the third had pointed out a typo on a ballot published by his office.

Merrill called the lawsuit “a political hack job,” and said he would continue to block “anyone else that I feel needs to be blocked.”

Given that colorful history, it doesn’t come as much of a shock that Alabama women – citizens and candidates alike – often find themselves the target of Merrill’s online anti-democratic, anti-capital-D-Democratic and anti-women anger and ridicule.

What might surprise Merrill, though, is that more Alabamians are fighting back.

When Merrill’s office closed Department of Motor Vehicle offices in the state’s seven “black belt counties” in 2016, forcing residents to drive to Tuscaloosa to obtain voter IDs, a retired social worker from Birmingham engaged in a Twitter exchange that went nowhere.

Responding to her and to others who had criticized the DMV closures, Merrill just boasted, “We’re breaking all sorts of registration records.”

When they asked him again to reopen more DMVs (he eventually relented), and to offer mail-in ballots and early voting to help minority and low-income voters, Merrill shut them down with this tweet: “This is not important. We have registered more voters than have ever been registered in the history of Alabama how many times am I going to have to tell you that before you understand it.” (The run-on sentence was his doing.)

Verbal punch and counter-punch

But when Merrill went at it again on Twitter this fall, he encountered a far more energetic response.

On Oct. 21, Alabama Congressional candidate Mallory Hagan criticized Merrill’s effort to purge registered voters who’d missed an election, and shared Merrill’s condescending justification on Twitter:

“If you’re too sorry or lazy to get up off your rear and to go register to vote…and then to go vote, then you don’t deserve that privilege. As long as I’m SOS of AL, you’re going to have to show some initiative…”

Merrill quickly slammed Hagan with this tweet:

Another voter responded:

“Donate to his prospective replacement Heather Milam here! Donate to the congressional candidate, Mallory Hagan, who he decided to be an ass to on Twitter, here!”

Then Merrill replied to tweeter Scott D. Cole with this two-for-one slam of both Hagan and Tabitha Isner, the Democratic candidate for Alabama’s 2nd Congressional district:

After which another Twitter denizen, Daniel Tait, helpfully linked his followers to the discussion:

Then Merrill’s Democratic opponent for Secretary of State, Heather Milam, weighed in:

Followed by this, from Huntsville, Ala., writer and community volunteer Jennifer Garlen:

To which, of course, Merrill just had to respond:

Another voter pushed back:

“So he’s complaining that snowflakes are jumping him on twitter? That sounds like something a snowflake would complain about…What a classy guy.”

And another asked:

“Isn’t blocking people you don’t agree with as a public official illegal?    Also just super unprofessional…”

Then Garlen responded:

What exactly is going on here?

As Garlen sees it, “I’ve been involved with politics on Twitter for the last few years, and I’m actively supporting campaigns in Alabama. Merrill’s belligerent attacks on Democratic candidates and his own constituents ought to be making headline news in our state and all over the country.”

“Sadly,” she added, “outrageous behavior from Republican officials and politicians has become the norm. They’ve been getting away with behaving like playground bullies, but we need to hold them accountable.”

The problem in Alabama, of course, is that Merrill is still in charge of the state’s apparatus for voter registration and the voting process – unless and until more Alabamians hear about his antics, decide they’ve had enough, and vote for his Democratic opponent.

How far will 2018’s Blue Wave extend? Will it reach ruby red Alabama and swamp Mr. Misogyny? We’ll know on November 6.

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