All four Republican candidates for Secretary of State met Monday night at the O’Neal Public Library in Mountain Brook to talk to the Eagle Forum about their qualifications and the integrity of Alabama elections.
The current Secretary of State, John Merrill, nears the end of his second and final term. Merrill is term-limited from running for the office again.
Ed Packard, State Rep. Wes Allen, State Auditor Jim Zeigler and Christian Horn are competing for the Republican Party nomination, which the primary election will determine on May 24.
Alabama’s Secretary of State oversees the Elections Division, which administers elections and implements election laws from the state and federal levels. At a time when election security has become a hot-button issue, especially among Republican voters, all four candidates have made it a top priority.
A poll conducted by 1819 News in March suggested that almost half of the likely Republican voters surveyed were undecided about the Secretary of State election.
Background and qualifications
All four candidates have come from different backgrounds that they believe will make them effective secretaries of state.
Packard, who spent most of his childhood in Auburn, worked in the Secretary of State's Office for almost 25 years. “You probably don’t know me because, as a state employee, I didn’t need to be in the newspaper.”
Packard said he combatted absentee voter fraud in Dothan in 2013 when he was part of a team that helped prosecute a case that led to four convictions of over 30 counts of absentee voter fraud.
Allen, on the other hand, was born and raised in Tuscaloosa “at the end of a dirt road.” Allen currently represents the 89th District in the Alabama House of Representatives, a position he has held since 2018. He is the son of state Sen. Gerald Allen, who has been a member of the legislature since 1994.
Allen was a walk-on at the University of Alabama (UA) and said he played under Dabo Sweeny, the current head coach at Clemson University, who was a position coach at UA at the time.
Allen now lives with his wife and two children in Troy.
Before entering the legislature, Allen was appointed probate judge of Pike County by Gov. Bob Riley. “As you know, the probate judge is the chief elections official for the county… As a probate judge, I protected and made sure we had safe and secure elections.”
As a state representative, Allen passed a bill to ban curbside voting. “That bill secures our ballots… We feel like that bill increases election security.”
Zeigler began by saying, “We’ve got a problem in Washington.” Zeigler was critical of President Joe Biden and promised to be a “watchman” for the state. “The big thing I will do as your secretary of state is my watchmen role.”
Zeigler is a graduate of UA, where he served as SGA president for the 1970-1971 school year. He served on the Alabama Public Service Commission in the mid-70s and lost a handful of close elections for various other positions throughout the remainder of the century. He won the election for state auditor in 2014 and has served in that position since.
As State Auditor, Zeigler filed the initial complaint against former Gov. Robert Bentley, leading to the governor's eventual resignation.
Horn is a former college football player, aneurysm survivor, engineer and businessman from Huntsville, and he is proud of it. “We solve problems. We put a man on the moon and we put missiles in the air… Right now, we’ve got the most difficult problem in the history of this country, which is how we’re going to protect this Democracy.”
Horn played football at the University of Michigan and now considers himself a conservative activist. He is the chairman of the Tennesee Valley Republican Club and is the North Alabama outreach director for the Alabama Republican Party.
Horn said his passion for elections comes from his great grandfather, an African American war veteran who was not allowed to vote due to the laws at the time. “That’s a passion that runs so deep that nobody could steal an election under my domain.” He is also an outspoken advocate against abortion, critical race theory and the COVID-19 shut-downs of private businesses.
“I don’t want a job,” Horn said. “I want to change the hearts of the people of this land.”
All four candidates were critical of the 2022 election and vowed to take measures to make Alabama’s elections more secure if elected.
Packard said he believes election integrity and fairness are not mutually exclusive.
“The reason voters should have confidence in our election system is because we follow the rules," said Packard.
Packard said Alabama should have audits after every election.
“Right now, we’re one of only six states that do not permit post-election audits,” said Packard.
He also said he wants to keep voting machines disconnected from the internet and would support public investigation of voting machines.
To help prosecute voter fraud, Packard said he would expand investigative power to the Secretary of State.
Packard said he is also an advocate for raising penalties for voter fraud. “[Penalties for voter fraud need] to be higher. [Penalties for voter fraud need] to be stiffer. People need to pay when they corrupt our system.”
During his campaign, Allen has been outspoken about the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), which he criticizes for being Democrat-controlled and funded by progressive billionaire Goerge Soros.
ERIC currently holds a contract with the state of Alabama to maintain voter rolls. As one of 31 states in the program, Alabama pays a membership fee to ERIC of around $28,000 a year, contributing to the organization’s annual budget of $1,037,000.
Allen mentioned ERIC only briefly during the forum, and it was not a topic of widespread discussion.
Like Packard, Allen reaffirmed that election security is “of the utmost importance” and supported public investigation of voting machines.
Allen was highly critical of absentee voting and the mass mailing in of ballots. “We need to make sure we have election day. Not election month.”
Zeigler promised to endorse the Republican nominee in the general election for secretary of state, regardless of who wins on May 24.
However, Zeigler said if he wins, he will have a “watchmen role” over the state’s elections.
“We need a watchman as Secretary of State, and that’s what I offer," Zeigler said.
Zeigler believes that non-citizens shouldn’t be allowed to vote in elections, promised to protect against the “federalization of elections” and was highly critical of ballot harvesting. “I will fight that not only in Alabama but nationally.”
Zeigler said he supported testing random samples of voting machines and criticized the left for calling Alabama’s voter ID laws a form of voter suppression. “They cannot produce one voter whose vote has been suppressed.”
Zeigler touted his recent endorsement by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell in April. Lindell is the founder of Cause of America, a group designed to promote election integrity, following questions about the 2020 election.
Horn was also critical of the left’s response to voter ID laws. “This is not 1965… How do I know? Because my family was there… That was real voter suppression.”
Horn said there is voter suppression taking place, however, through indoctrination in the education system, and Republicans should be careful so that it doesn’t hurt them.
“If we want to stop voter suppression, let's teach the Constitution,” Horn said. “Let’s support school choice.”
Horn said, if elected, he will push for a full-scale audit of voting machines and push to get ballots counted by hand.
The Eagle Forum ended the meeting by thanking the candidates for participating and the attendees for listening.
You can watch the entire forum here:
To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email [email protected].
Don’t miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.