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The frustration level is understandable as it has been two years since Ty Coffey, Allison Sinclair of Local Alabama and election whistleblowers gathered necessary proof of election violations on November 3, 2020. These particular breaches occurred in real time on Election Day through the absentee ballot voting system.

A year ago, on December 5, 2021, Coffey submitted a three-page report to the Attorney General of Alabama detailing evidence and testimony gathered to date. Yet, no visible action has taken place ahead of the midterm elections to set the record straight on whether or not this is an acceptable and legal activity within the absentee ballot voting system. 

Instead, there is radio silence coming from our state leadership, the very ones imputed with the power to prosecute and penalize violations or at the very bare minimum, publicly instruct voters as to how to better adhere to current election law. Case in point, when Alabama passed the voter ID law, Secretary of State John Merrill defended that law in court and had no qualms about reminding voters at every speaking opportunity of the need for bringing an ID to the polls. 

In the past two years, Coffey has continued to speak to city and county leadership to make Alabamians aware of election concerns with absentee ballots and the state's voter rolls.

1819 News was able to discuss these concerns with Coffey as part of a continued effort to shed light on the election discrepancies and lack of accountability here in the state and especially to do so ahead of the midterm elections.

Here is what happened on Election Day 2020:

Several Alabama counties experienced the same odd occurrence at their voting precincts. On November 3, 2020, a voter would show up and say they got a call from someone they presumed to be from the county courthouse who told them their absentee ballot had been rejected. That caller urged the voter to go to their precinct before it closed and cast a provisional ballot instead since the probate judge would not count the absentee ballot for lack of necessary voter data.

The precinct poll workers and inspectors were perplexed by this. The list of absentee voters is not to be made public until a day after the election, as declared by state law.

Alabama state law 17-11-5 reads as follows:

( c)(1) The list of electors voting by absentee ballot shall remain confidential until the day following election

However, the precinct poll inspector would accommodate the person and allow them to cast a provisional ballot. These ballots are placed in a separate box from the voting machines until later approved by the county elections clerk.

This recurred enough times in various counties for the clerks to start an email loop on the issue. Coffey says the contents of those emails were read to him over the phone from "Whistleblower 1." According to Coffey, those emails included a response from Clay Helms, director of elections at the Secretary of State's office. Helms acknowledged that this violated absentee voting laws.  

Whistleblowers 1 and 2 spoke to 1819 News about what happened next. One of them knew someone who had arrived at a precinct, citing a mysterious phone call. This elderly voter had chosen first to vote by absentee ballot due to COVID-19 concerns but was now seeking to vote provisionally at the behest of the caller, who revealed that their absentee ballot was rejected. The elderly voter was willing to give the whistleblower/friend the number from their phone's caller ID.

The ground-level sleuthing then went further.

One of the whistleblowers called that number and got a voicemail message in which the phone's owner gave their name. A quick google search of the person's name revealed that they worked for the Alabama Democrat Party.

So, how was one political party able to know who to call about absentee ballots being rejected on the day of the election, not the day after? 

Here is a breakdown of where absentee ballot privacy was breached:

Within the county courthouse, a room is designated for counting absentee ballots on Election Day. Two poll workers are partnered to open an envelope and look for the proper criteria: 

  • Completed ballot,

  • Photocopy of driver's license,

  • Two witness signatures 

  • Seal of a notary public.

If all is in order, the first and second poll workers say the voters' names out loud that the absentee ballot is approved. If not, the ballot is also vocally rejected.

Poll watchers allowed to be present in that room must be affiliated with one of the candidates running or the two political parties, Democrat or Republican.

What followed is that one of those poll watchers heard or saw the names rejected and communicated them to a person outside that room through phone or computer. That third person would then determine what political party that "rejected" absentee voter belonged to, and if Democrat would give them a call urging them to vote provisionally at the precinct. 

What the absentee ballot voter is failing to remember or willfully ignoring is the fact that the absentee voting materials require a signature from that person, thereby an agreement that they will not attempt to cast a provisional ballot at the precinct once they submit their absentee ballot through the mail or in-person delivery.

Ty Coffey also points out that those involved in these phone calls that encouraged provisional voting for absentee voters are in direct violation of election law.

Alabama Code Title 17. Elections § 17-17-24

The evidence Coffey gathered shows this happening in real time on Election Day multiple times over, giving the Democratic Party a leg up on getting more votes cast through more means than just one, while any Republican making the same mistake on their absentee ballot would have their vote rejected. Regardless of whether the Democrat candidates actually won any race with this strategy or not is irrelevant to the matter. This is a coordinated, unfair and unethical method of gaming the absentee voting process where under state law, both parties and all legitimate voters are to be treated and processed equally without special advantages or discriminations.

After November 3, 2020:

In the months following the election, Coffey and Sinclair became aware of this coordinated effort in various counties and immediately started to contact the attorney general's office. They did so because they knew the Secretary of State's office was aware of what happened on Election Day but apparently took no action.

"There was nothing done to stop this on election day and no pursuit of trying to figure out who has been doing this." said Coffey, "We called AG Marshall's office, and that didn't do anything. We then started talking to bigwigs in the Republican Party to get Marshall's attention. He either didn't call them back, or they didn't tell us he called back. I don't know."

Ultimately, it was Sinclair and a friend who hatched a plan in the fall of 2021 that involved a speech that Marshall delivered in Huntsville. Sinclair's friend got the attention of the Attorney General's security and then the attention of Marshall himself. The friend then handed off Sinclair's phone number.

To his credit, Marshall did call Sinclair a few days later. She talked to 1819 News about those calls, also giving the phone record dates.

The first call was on December 3, 2021. Sinclair recalled, "On our first conversation, Marshall did not know what this was all in regards to, so I laid out what the whistleblowers, Ty Coffey and others, had learned about the absentee ballot anomalies of 2020. I urged him to investigate this further. I also asked him to look into the known email chain among county clerks about these precinct events. I would describe Marshall as receptive, kind and interested. He seemed willing to follow through."

After that conversation, Coffey's three-page document, consisting of names, dates, phone numbers and counties, was sent to Marshall's secretary.

The second call was on December 13.

"This was just a follow-up call from Marshall. He wanted to confirm the whistleblower's number." Sinclair said.

Shortly after that call from Marshall, Sinclair attended a voter reform task force meeting where Merill was speaking. Sinclair said that during that speech, Merill used the absentee ballot/provisional ballot scheme as an example of "highly illegal activity."  

Sinclair remembered, "We were sitting there thinking, 'Oh my word, I can't believe that just happened.'"

This was exactly the scenario evidence that Sinclair, Coffey and others had presented to the AG's office. Here it was publicly declared by the Secretary of State as an election violation.

The third call was on February 15, 2022. Sinclair recalled, "Marshall confirmed that he had spoken to the whistleblower and reached out to the Secretary of State's office and was gathering information on election law." 

According to Sinclair, the final call from Marshall was on February 24.

Sinclair said it was to confirm that the AG would sit down in a matter of days and meet with both Merill and the Director of Elections Clay Helms to discuss the issue.

"After that, I never heard back from him. It was like we were ghosted," she advised.

In September of this year, Coffey again reminded John Merill of this absentee ballot subversion through a series of tweet exchanges. The tweets occurred as Merrill issued a press release on the number of days left before registering for an absentee ballot in the general election.

In the past, Merill has been very vocal about his willingness to investigate/prosecute voter fraud here in the state and has publicly revealed the cases where it was done. The question now arises why he would overlook another opportunity to add a feather to his cap before leaving office, especially in a case that he already publicly defined as "highly illegal?"

1819 News did reach out to Merill's office in October via email regarding the absentee ballot scheme, but there was no response. The AG's office was also contacted and reminded of the evidence submitted by Coffey. The response from Marshall's office was that it would be looked into. Now, the state is on the eve of a midterm election with plenty of reminders on deadlines and dates but none on absentee voting laws.

Granted, the number of absentee ballots will certainly be less in submissions this year than during the height of COVID in 2020, but once an aspect of the voting process is potentially gamed with impunity, would it come as any surprise that coordinated subversions continue? Or will any other newfound exploitables be further pursued by those who believe they got away with it the first time? The state just witnessed a 2022 Republican primary race in Lee county that was determined by one vote, so there is never any acceptable margin of "questionable ballots or sloppy practices" that should be permitted or overlooked. 

Perhaps Merill's lack of action is because he's leaving office in a few months. Possibly any scrutiny of the touted "gold standard" of state elections would not withstand public investigation, critical analysis, transparency, and accountability if thoroughly applied to all levels of the election process. 

Sinclair said the lack of transparency is concerning.

"If there's nothing nefarious going on here, why the shut down of discussion or lack of a conclusion?" she asked. "It's just odd. Why can't they just tell us if we have been wrong about this and it is perfectly legal? Why has all this time gone by when they could have ended our concerns and questions? It's like when you go to your kids' room, the door's locked, you knock and say, 'Let me in,' And the longer they take to open that door, the more you wonder, 'What was going on, what were they doing in there?'"

Coffey is also disturbed that state leaders have failed to act when it comes to further secure the very critical integrity of Alabama's election process.

"That is what is crushing." stated Coffey, "I really liked John Merill and what he seemed to be doing in the state. The thing I have to now remember in all of this is that both John Merrill, Steve Marshall and Gov. Kay Ivey are all former Democrats before they switched parties and ran for state office - well, supposedly former Democrats."

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email andrea.tice@1819news.com.

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