Alabama Secretary of State: Helping More People Vote Would "Cheapen the Work" of Civil Rights Heroes
Alabama Secretary of State: Helping More People Vote Would "Cheapen the Work" of Civil Rights Heroes
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill / Answering the Call screen shot
By Mark Joseph Stern / slate.com

Automatic voter registration has recently emerged a key tool in increasing the United States’ anemic voter turnout. The process is simple: Whenever an eligible citizen interacts with a government agency (typically the DMV), she is registered to vote unless she declines. Although automatic voter registration is a nonpartisan initiative, it tends to be favored by Democrats and opposed by Republicans, who believe they fare better in low-turnout races; two Republican governors have already vetoed Democrat-sponsored automatic voter registration bills in Illinois and New Jersey. Now Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, a Republican, has joined the opposition. Asked a question about automatic voter registration, Merrill declared that the practice “cheapen[s] the work” of civil rights heroes and that “just because you turned 18 doesn’t give you the right” to vote.

Merrill explained his thoughts in an interview with a progressive voting rights initiative called Answering the Call. Asked about automatic registration for people who turn 18, Merrill responded, “I don’t think that just because your birthday comes around, that you ought to be registered to vote.” He then listed a litany of voting rights advocates—including Rep. John Lewis, Martin Luther King, and Rosa Parks—and declared:

These people fought—some of them were beaten, some of them were killed—because of their desire to ensure that everybody that wanted to had the right to register to vote and participate in the process. I’m not going to cheapen the work that they did. I’m not going to embarrass them by allowing somebody that’s too sorry to get up off of their rear end to go register to vote … because they think they deserve the right because they’ve turned 18.

(Lewis strongly supports automatic voter registration and is pushing a bill that would institute the initiative throughout the United States. In 1976, Lewis stood next to President Jimmy Carter as Carter unveiled his plan for nationwide automatic voter registration.)*

“To me,” Merrill continued, “that’s no different than giving them a trophy because they’ve played on the ball team.”

You only get a trophy if you win! And if you want to participate in the process, there’s a system for doing that. And we want to make sure that they have the ability to do that. And we’re going to help them have the opportunity to do it. But just because you turned 18 doesn’t give you the right to do anything.

Merrill then said, “I’m not attracted to lazy people or sorry people or people who don’t want to get involved.”

If you’re too sorry or lazy to get up off of your rear and to go register to vote, or to register electronically, and then to go vote, then you don’t deserve that privilege. As long as I’m Secretary of State of Alabama, you’re going to have to show some initiative to become a registered voter in this state.

Two points about Merrill’s disquisition. First, the voting rights pioneers whom he invoked spoke about the ballot in nearly sacrosanct terms as the bedrock of democracy; it is difficult to imagine them criticizing any effort to provide the ballot to more people. Second, under the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution, turning 18 does, indeed, give an American citizen the right to vote. So Merrill’s statement that “just because you turned 18 doesn’t give you the right to do anything” is not only contradictory to basic values of citizenship and democratic engagement in America. It’s also just plain wrong.

Update, Nov. 2, 2016: This post has been updated to reflect the fact that while Merrill insists automatic voter registration would “cheapen” Lewis’ legacy, Lewis vigorously supports the initiative and has for at least 40 years.

0.0 ·
0
What's Next
Trending Today
6 Toxic Relationship Habits Most People Think Are Normal
Mark Manson · 9,934 views today · There’s no class in high school on how to not be a shitty boyfriend or girlfriend. Sure, they teach us the biology of sex, the legality of marriage, and maybe read a few...
This Polish Ad Will Give You The Feels, For Reals
3 min · 7,689 views today · This is an ad for Allegro, a Polish company similar to eBay, and it's heartwarmingly lovely.
Time-Lapse Satellite Images Give a Startling Snapshot of Past 30 Years on Earth
2 min · 6,546 views today · Working with satellite images from NASA and the US Geological Survey, Google has created a searchable snapshot of the past 3 decades on Earth, creating startling time-lapses of...
Dr. Maya Angelou: Love Liberates
5 min · 4,561 views today · Words to live by from Dr. Maya Angelou. Love each other.
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 2,436 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
The Myth of Positivity: Why Your Pain Holds a Mighty Purpose
umair haque · 1,942 views today · Of all the great myths of contemporary life, one of the most toxic is positivity. It says: there are negative and positive emotions, and only the positive ones are worth...
15 Easy Things You Can Do to Help When You Feel Like Shit
Maritsa Patrinos · 1,109 views today · You don’t have to tackle it all at once.
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 1,074 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,020 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
The Problem with Hating Our Enemies
Charles Eisenstein · 819 views today · He who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself; and if thou gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into thee. —Nietzsche
Have You Heard of The Great Forgetting? It Happened 10,000 Years Ago & Completely Affects Your Life
Daniel Quinn · 719 views today · (Excerpted from the book, The Story of B) With every audience and every individual, I have to begin by making them see that the cultural self-awareness we inherit from our...
The Lid Is off, The Truth Is Coming Out
Charles Eisenstein · 561 views today · It is getting harder to keep a secret these days. The collective shadow of our society, once safely relegated to the dark basement of the unmentionable, is now exposed to...
Sleaford Mods on Brexit Britain
4 min · 522 views today · In early 2014 the Guardian hailed duo Sleaford Mods as ‘the most uncompromising British protest music made in years’. Here, we go backstage at a Sleaford Mods gig in their...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 454 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 423 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 353 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 347 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
Defiance in the Face of Oppression - Iranian Artist Atena Farghadani Defends the Right to Draw
Gavin Aung Than · 307 views today · Atena Farghadani is a 28-year-old Iranian artist. She was recently sentenced to 12 years and 9 months in prison for drawing a cartoon.  
Standing Rock Wisdom: How Sacred, Nonviolent Activism Has the Power to Succeed
Charles Eisenstein · 271 views today · I am told by Native American friends active at Standing Rock that the elders are counseling the Water Protectors to undertake each action prayerfully and to stay off the...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 255 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Alabama Secretary of State: Helping More People Vote Would "Cheapen the Work" of Civil Rights Heroes