This time last year, Alabama’s chief elections official landed in the national spotlight for delivering a screed against nonvoters that many people interpreted as an attack on African Americans in the state, who have long faced barriers to voting. “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,” Republican John Merrill said in an interview with documentary filmmaker Brian Jenkins. Jenkins had asked why he opposed automatically registering Alabamians when they reach voting age, and his response sizzled with anger toward people who “think they deserve the right because they’ve turned 18.” So he made a pledge: “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.”
In the year since he made those comments, Merrill has in many ways made good on his promise. When Alabamians go to the polls on Tuesday to elect Republican Roy Moore or Democrat Doug Jones as their new senator, an untold number will not participate due to the decisions made by Merrill’s office—which is in charge of ensuring a fair voting process—and by the Republicans who run the state. These laws and policies overwhelmingly make it harder for minorities to vote.