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Wes Allen’s long project of limiting choices

The Alabama secretary of state’s career has sought to make voting more difficult. Trying to keep the president off the state ballot fits that pattern.

Joe Biden cannot win Alabama’s nine electoral votes without a divine act that defies our current political reality.

Something on the scale of parting seas and endless fish buffets.

An alien hand should give the Democrats superhuman energy and the Republicans the despair of Pittsburgh Pirates fans. You would also need a radical change in the politics of Baldwin, Shelby and Limestone counties — all fast-growing, all safely Republican.

How? Don’t know. Perhaps Donald Trump is telling his supporters to treat immigrants with dignity and respect. Maybe he calls Baldwin, Shelby and Limestone the provinces of hell.

And even then, I think the Republican wins. The state’s electorate is predominantly white; disproportionately rural and older than the nation as a whole. This is deeply anchored in the political DNA of the state. And you can’t loosen those protein strands in six months.

Alabama hasn’t turned blue in the presidential election since 1976. It hasn’t been a battleground since 1980, when Ronald Reagan won a 1.3% victory over Jimmy Carter. Donald Trump received more than 60% of the votes in Alabama in 2016 and 2020. That will almost certainly happen again.

But there are still many Alabamians — nearly 850,000 four years ago — who want to vote for the Democratic candidate.

And Alabama’s Secretary of State would deny them that choice.

Wes Allen told national and state Democratic parties earlier this month that the Democratic National Convention, where Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will be formally nominated for office, will come after an Aug. 15 deadline to place the candidates on the ballot. The Democratic National Convention begins on August 19.

“If this office has not received a valid nomination certificate from the Democratic Party after its convention within the legal period, I will not be able to certify the names of the Democratic Party’s candidates for President and Vice President for the preparation of the votes for the 2024 general election.”, Allen wrote.

The Republican Party encountered this issue in 2020. The Republican Party National Convention took place after that year’s certification deadline, August 13. So the Alabama Legislature extended the deadline to August 20. Small problem: the Republican National Convention didn’t start until August 24th.

But then-Secretary of State John Merrill, a Republican, accepted a tentative statement from the Republican Party on August 20. The formal statement from Trump and Vice President Mike Pence came on August 27, after the convention had closed.

Naturally, Joe Biden’s campaign suggested this obvious solution, which does not require a confrontation with the President of the United States.

Allen said he will not accept a provisional certification.

If this goes to trial, as Biden’s campaign hinted, the secretary of state is unlikely to prevail. Whatever Allen’s feelings, his predecessor found a way to address the problem. It is difficult to justify an adjustment for one major party but not for the other.

And it’s even harder to ignore which voters are most affected by Allen’s position, whatever his intentions. Because voting in this state is racially polarized.

White Alabamians tend to favor Republicans. Black Alabamians generally support Democrats.

That’s not my opinion. That is the conclusion of three federal judges, two of whom owe their jobs to Trump.

The panel wrote in the state’s long-running redistricting dispute in January 2022 that there was a “veritable mountain of undisputed evidence that in all districts at issue in this case, and in all statewide elections, voting in Alabama is polarized along racial lines. The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed this conclusion twice.

If it is virtually certain that Donald Trump will win Alabama in November, it is equally certain that the vast majority of Black Alabamians will vote for Joe Biden. Allen would deny them that choice.

That seems to fit a pattern for the man charged with overseeing state elections.

As a state representative in 2020, he supported Texas’ plan to overturn the election results in four states won by Biden. The following year, he passed a law banning street voting, something that was a great help to elderly and disabled voters. Allen also sponsored a law banning private companies from providing funding for local election administration, a help for poorer communities.

Allen has a ruthless focus on eliminating the vulnerable from the political process. He calls it election security. That seems to mean protecting the government from people who might disagree with it.

Now he’s targeting a person who will likely be the choice for most black voters in Alabama.

Whether the state takes this path will depend on the Alabama Legislature. Two committees on Wednesday approved measures to extend the deadline beyond the Democratic convention. With six legislative days remaining, the bills must move this week before becoming law.

If they don’t, the state will almost certainly be back in federal court.

But it shouldn’t get to that point. There is nothing to be gained from watching impassively as a state official silences a quarter of Alabama’s population. One would hope that lawmakers have learned their lesson from their attempt to do something similar last summer.

And if they didn’t? Then state taxpayers will be stuck with another unnecessary legal bill. And then we have another sign of who Goat Hill really serves.

The presidential race in Alabama will not be competitive. But it should not be predetermined either. And our lawmakers will soon reveal whether they support democracy or Allen’s vision of a true one-party state.

Brian Lyman is the editor of Alabama Reflector. He has covered Alabama politics since 2006, working at the Montgomery Advertiser, the Press-Register and The Anniston Star. His work has won awards from the Associated Press Managing Editors, the Alabama Press Association, and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights. He lives in Auburn with his wife Julie and their three children.

Alabama reflector is part of States Newsroom, an independent, nonprofit website covering politics and policy in state capitals across the country.