Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill has a list of 674 people identified as illegal crossover voters that he plans to turn over to prosecutors once they’re confirmed by his office. A law passed during the Alabama Legislature’s 2016 regular session now prohibits primary voters from crossing over to vote in another party’s primary runoff. The law is one thing, but the penalty is flat-out nuts for something we could easily prevent.

The text of the crossover prohibition law doesn’t actually say anything about the consequences for violating the law. The Code of Alabama does. “Any person who…knowingly attempts to vote when not entitled to do so…shall be guilty, upon conviction, of a Class C felony.” Put the two together, and we now have hundreds of people who are potentially felons.

Don’t say the public wasn’t warned. Merrill wrote an unaddressed letter describing the penalty for crossover voting. Merrill certainly deserves credit for posting the warning, but most voters probably aren’t checking the secretary of state’s website before voting.

More importantly, Merrill’s letter acknowledges reports that “poll workers have been identified assisting or allowing voters, which were marked as having cast a ballot for a Democratic candidate in the primary on August 15th, to vote a Republican ballot.”

Let’s use some brainpower here, folks.

Instead of reviewing election records and blocking voters from crossover voting, poll workers may have actively assisted voters in committing a possible felony. ThinkProgress reports that almost half of the names Merrill has compiled are the result of a clerical error designed to prevent crossover voting.

Most people probably assume that poll workers are up-to-date on election rules. Apparently many weren’t.

In all likelihood, many of the identified crossover voters didn’t knowingly break the law and likely won’t be prosecuted. For those who did break the law intentionally, we need to consider that punishment seems particularly extreme for an offense that’s easily remedied.

The obvious solution here is to simply reject votes improperly cast and prevent it from happening in the future. Elections matter and need to be taken seriously, but we don’t need to send people to prison for something our election system should be able to prevent administratively. I’m cautiously optimistic that we can figure this out.



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