Alabama officials are accused of suppressing black college-aged votes in the recent November election.

Friday, Nov. 9, four African American Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University students filed a lawsuit against Alabama state officials accusing them of denying the students their right to vote. Although the students registered to vote before the deadline, they were asked to cast provisional ballots on Election Day which have not been certified by the state and won’t be count in the recent election, the students claim.

The students, Jordan Jackson, Kendra Jones, Terry Matthews III and Simeon Sykes, believe the officials handled the situation illegally. According to the lawsuit, the students’ experience on Election Day was an attempt to inhibit voting at the local historically black college.

What Does the Lawsuit Allege?

The lawsuit states, “Over 175 provisional ballots were cast at the AAMU polling place. Moreover, the AAMU polling location ran out of provisional ballots multiple times throughout Election Day, leading to hour-plus long wait times to cast provisional ballots and students having to leave without voting.”

Although the secretary of state’s website has the students’ names listed on their voter rolls and the students completed their voter registration prior to the deadline, the students claim poll workers informed them on election day that they were not registered to vote. Poll workers then instructed them to cast provisional ballots, but according to the lawsuit, Alabama’s Secretary of State website has “failed to certify their provisional ballots, meaning they will not be counted.”

The experience led the students, represented by lawyers with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, along with their lead attorney Kerri Johnson Riley, to sue Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, the Madison County Board of Registrars and its chair Lynda Hairston.

The four voters assert that the defendants’ actions violated the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as well as the 14th, 15th and 26th amendments to the Constitution. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed one of the most comprehensive acts of civil rights legislation in U.S. history, the Voting Rights Act of 1965,  to ensure that African Americans were free to exercise their right to vote, as assured by the 15th Amendment.

Senior Counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Catherine Meza said in a statement: “Nothing is more fundamental than the right to vote, and these students, despite complying with all of Alabama’s regulations, were denied that right.”

Each of the students registered to vote well before the Oct. 22 deadline, according to the lawsuit. But the plaintiffs were not the only ones to experience difficulty when voting.

Multiple AAMU Students Faced Barriers to Voting

The complaint states, “During the weeks preceding the November 2018 election, many AAMU students experienced barriers to registering to vote, which, on information and belief, are attributable to defendants’ actions. These included unjustified rejections or delayed processing of students’ voter registration applications and students being placed on inactive status for improper reasons.”

The lawsuit continues, “Furthermore, of the black registered voters in Madison County, 70.5 percent are 18-21 years old—college age.”

According to the lawsuit, a predominantly white school in the area, the University of Alabama at Huntsville, experienced no such problems.

However, just one day after the election, the plaintiffs found they were indeed on the voting rolls.

After “Courthouse News” requested comment on Nov. 9, it did not get an immediate response from Secretary of State John Merrill, Chairman of the Board Lynda Hairston or NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Senior Counsel Catherine Meza.

 

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