By MADDISON BOOTH, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – This year’s primary election on May 24 will feature four Republican candidates vying for secretary of state, one of whom will advance to run against Democrat Pamela Lafitte in November.
Current Secretary of State John Merrill is nearing the end of his second term as Alabama’s “Chief Election Official,” and these are the Republicans running to take his place.
Rep. Wes Allen, R-Troy, currently serves Alabama’s district 89 in the Alabama House of Representatives. He is also the fundraising leader for this race so far.
Prior to his election to the legislature in 2018, Allen spent nearly 10 years as the probate judge for Pike County, where he said that he “ran more than a dozen elections without a single error.”
When he began his time in the House, Allen continued his role in state elections as vice chair of the Constitution and Elections Committee.
Allen sponsored two important bills pertaining to elections. The first was a ban of curbside voting, and the second, known as the “Zuckerbucks Ban,” outlawed private money being used to purchase voting equipment or pay election staff. Both have been signed into law.
If elected, Allen wants to immediately withdraw the state from the Electronic Registration Information System, a non-profit organization that assists states with keeping accurate voter rolls.
He also wants to see a bill passed outlawing connecting voting machines to the internet.
Allen acknowledged the nationwide movements toward overturning voter ID laws, allowing more mail-in ballots and allowing non-U.S. citizens to vote.
“I will stand firm, as I always have, to stop such things from ever happening here,” he said.
Christian Horn describes himself as “an outsider who will fight for the people.” He works in systems engineering in his hometown of Huntsville.
Horn said that his experience with audits in systems engineering makes him the perfect candidate to implement post-election audits in Alabama.
Horn also noted his past experience working with small businesses as a “key asset” for him to be able to perform the office’s business-related duties.
“Voting happens every couple of years, and business happens every day,” Horn said.
As far as voting goes, he wants to see shorter lines at the polls and a more educated voter base.
Horn said he’s talked with current state legislators about implementing high school and college courses in Alabama to specifically focus on voter education.
He also wants to create stronger defenses for databases to protect Alabama’s voting system against cyber attacks.
Horn did doctoral work at the University of Detroit School of Law and Texas Southern School of Law, and hopes to use his legal knowledge to make sure Alabama remains in line with the federal Voting Rights Act.
“I understand the legislators and the laws that we might need to tweak,” Horn said. He hopes to be a clear communicator between the office and the state house.
Ed Packard has been working as an election official for the secretary of state’s office for nearly 25 years and is not short on ideas for improvements in the office.
“The 2020 election highlighted the fact that we’re one of only six states that either do not permit or require post-election audits,” Packard said. If elected, he plans to implement these audits, which ensure that elections ran properly.
He also wants to expand the office’s authority to allow it to issue subpoenas in order to help build cases against voter fraud. He said he’s received support for this from current lawmakers.
Packard’s other goals include creating higher penalties for election crimes and giving voters the option to opt out having their information sold.
In the 2022 session, Packard worked with Alabama Senator Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, on a bill that would make it illegal to connect voting machines to the internet or bluetooth, which would prevent hacking of the machines. The bill did not make it to the House floor.
Packard said he has no intent on becoming a politician, but simply wants to continue his career as an election official.
“I’m running for secretary of state because I want to be secretary of state,” Packard said. “I’m not going to be distracted by other political aspirations.”
Current Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler is finishing up his second term in that position and hopes to transition to secretary of state.
“As the state auditor, I served as a watchman…against government waste and mismanagement,” Zeigler said. “As the secretary of state, I will seek to serve as a watchman for election integrity.”
Zeigler said his main concern as secretary of state would be to protect Alabama’s elections from attacks by “so-called progressives.”
He wants to defend current election practices, such as the requirement of voter identification, the one-day voting timeline and in-person voting.
Zeigler’s priority would be to update the voter database, continuing to remove ineligible names, such as those who have deceased or moved to a different state.
Zeigler said all his recent discussions with state legislators have been regarding his current role as state auditor, but if elected secretary of state, he would continue to work with these lawmakers in his new position.