• Alex Nelson

Alabama Secretary of State earns perfect audit in aftermath of pro-violence, anti-BLM tweets

For the first time in over 14 years, Alabama’s Secretary of State Office has received a perfect financial audit. Last week, the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts released a report detailing the secretary of state office’s fiscal performance between 2015 and 2019, showing that the department had met all its financial responsibilities and obligations during that period.

In a statement, Secretary of State John Merrill — who took office in 2015 — contrasted his administration’s approach to those of his predecessors, saying, “When we came into office, we established new expectations, procedures, and standards, and in turn, changed the paradigm for a successfully run government agency. We are excited to announce that the Office of the Secretary of State no longer operates at the speed of government, but instead operates at the speed of business.”

“Previously, public money was treated as disposable and there was a severe lack of accountability among the staff,” Merrill said.

The Secretary of State’s official release also described, in detail, many of the past failures that have plagued Alabama’s Secretary of State office. The issues included “not maintaining personal receipts, not establishing a comprehensive disaster recovery plan, not creating a backup voter registration database, not administering Help America Vote Act funds appropriately, not limiting access to company credit cards and worse,” according to the statement. This year’s report, spanning from 2015-2019, gave the SOS a clear audit.

The Alabama Secretary of State office has made other headlines in recent weeks for both positive and negative reasons related to its online activities.

In late November, John Merrill came under fire for re-tweeting an anti-Black Lives Matter video that described a "war on whites" by BLM. The video, which Merrill posted from his personal Twitter account, had been selectively edited to only show a hooded figure punching and knocking down a white male counter-protester during a protest against police violence. The excerpt failed to show the downed victim's assault of several peaceful bystanders, including women, which was included in the full video. Merrill poured additional fuel to the social media firestorm after he re-tweeted the following message: "When patriots decide it's time to fight back it's gonna be ugly." Activist groups promptly called Merrill out, accusing him of using his personal twitter account to sound a racist dog whistle while also reinforcing white nationalist sympathies. Merrill's Twitter commentary raises important questions about whether he supports the anti-government sentiments of the insurrectionists involved in the deadly Capitol Hill attack on January 6.

Merrill eventually deleted the tweets but defended his freedom to use his Twitter account at his own discretion, saying, “The people that have a concern about my social media engagement or activity should not follow me on social media if they have a concern about that," said Merrill. "If they want to follow the Office of the Secretary of State, they’re certainly welcome to do that.”

The Secretary of State office received more recent press for cutting business filing fees and streamlining other paperwork filings for businesses under Act 2020-73. Prior to the act taking effect — which began on January 1, 2021 — businesses processed paperwork at the county level with no uniform fee structure and varying requirements from jurisdiction-to-jurisdiction. The new regulations unify business filings under the Secretary of State and allow for straightforward, one-stop, online filing.

The Alabama Secretary of State office is staffed by the following Division Heads:

  • David Brewer: Deputy Secretary of State and Chief of Staff

  • Clay Helms: Deputy Chief of Staff and Elections Director

  • Taylor Freeman: Chief Financial Officer

  • Adam Alexander: Director of Information Systems

  • Shemekwa Farrow: Director of Government Support, Authentications, and Trademarks

  • Elaine Swearengin: Director of Business Services

  • Beth Hall: Director of Uniform Commercial Code Services