Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill defended his decision to use taxpayer dollars to print posters of former President Trump promoting the state’s voter registration and photo ID campaign.
Merrill helped distribute the posters at Wednesday night’s Alabama basketball game in Tuscaloosa. The posters follow Trump’s appearance in a commercial promoting voter registration in Alabama. The commercial was recorded November 30 during a two-day visit by Merrill to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida and is scheduled to begin airing this month.
Throughout Merrill’s seven years as secretary of state he has worked with celebrities to encourage voting. From football coaches Nick Saban and Gus Malzahn in 2015 to singer Lionel Richie this year, most have been sports and entertainment stars with ties to the state. Merrill’s office gave out posters of Jimmy Buffett, another participant in the voting initiative, at Wednesday night’s game, along with Trump’s.
State law requires Merrill to inform the public about the photo ID requirement, Merrill Press Secretary Cameron Mixon said in an email. Merrill said no one is better at drawing attention to the issue than Trump.
“I don’t think anybody would argue and I think empirical data proves that President Trump is the most popular president in the history of the state of Alabama,” Merrill said. “And people still get excited anytime he is a part of anything related to our state. Whether it’s attending a ballgame, it’s holding a rally, or it’s just visiting or just commenting on our state.
“And it was very clear to me when I was looking at who we needed to consider as far as candidates were concerned to promote voter registration and photo ID in 2022, which will be my last year to do it, that the number one person that I could try to find a way to reach to see if he wanted to participate was President Trump.”
Trump received 62% of the vote in Alabama in 2016 and 2020, winning the state by margins of more than 25 percentage points. Trump drew a crowd that the Secret Service estimated at 45,000 at his last public appearance in the state, an outdoor rally in Cullman in August.
Trump is also potential candidate for president in 2024 and is regularly repeating his unfounded claims that the 2020 election was stolen, a message he is using to raise money through his political action committee, Save America PAC.
Although Merrill said he was thrilled when Trump agreed to take part in the voting promotion, he said he knew others in Alabama would not be. So he said he asked several equally high-profile Democrats if they would record a commercial.
“Knowing full well that there would be some people that would not be as enthusiastic about President Trump’s participation, I thought it was important that I reached out to other people that would be equally as recognizable as President Trump,” Merrill said. “The first person that I reached out to was President Biden. This was after I confirmed that President Trump was going to participate. And President Biden, we never got a response that he was interested in participating. And we reached out to him multiple times through the U.S. mail and through email. And we reached out through the different people on his team that we would normally make inquiries of through governmental affairs.”
Merrill said he contacted associates of former Presidents Obama and Clinton, but they also declined.
“We actually received a formal ‘no’ from each of their teams indicating they didn’t have an interest in pursuing,” Merrill said. “I also reached out to Congresswoman Terri Sewell and she was not interested in participating either. So after that I felt like I had done all that I needed to do and probably more than I was required to do.”
Mixon said the state paid $5,244 to produce 29,000 of the Trump posters. He said it cost the state $7,500 to produce the commercial.
Merrill said the state has produced posters for the other voting campaign participants over the years, including 10,000 Lionel Richie that are being printed now. Most of the posters from over the years have been given out, he said.
As for whether he believes Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was rigged, Merrill did not say yes or no.
“I know the election was not stolen in Alabama,” Merrill said.
He said he does believe that some other states broke their own laws and federal election laws. Efforts by Trump and his supporters to challenge the election results failed in court.
Merrill’s counterpart in Georgia, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, denounced Trump’s claims that Joe Biden carried the state because of irregularities.
In a January 2021 phone call, Trump pressured Raffensperger to find enough votes to overturn Biden’s win in the state and mentioned the potential of a “criminal offense” if Raffensperger did not. Georgia had already recounted its votes twice at that point, once at Trump’s request, before certifying Biden’s win by 11,779 votes.
“I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state,” Trump told Raffernsperger during the call.
Raffernsperger told Trump his claims about voting irregularities in the state were wrong. Raffensperger recorded the hour-long call and leaked it to the press after Trump tweeted that Raffensperger would not answer his questions and “has no clue!”
Asked about Trump’s call to Raffensperger, Merrill said he was disappointed that Raffensperger recorded the call without telling Trump.
“I just think that’s common courtesy,” Merrill said.
Merrill said he did not interpret Trump’s call to be an effort to find votes that were not legitimate.
“I did not read that the president was asking Brad Raffensperger to go locate votes for him that were just created or made up,” Merrill said. “I didn’t read it that way. And maybe I’m the only person that read it that didn’t read it that way. But that’s not the way I read it. And I think part of that is because I know that President Trump and anybody else that knows anything about election knows that you can’t just pull votes out of the air. There’s no way that you can do that.
“I think the president had a great deal of personal frustration and irritation about what had happened in Georgia. And I think he was letting some of that out. And I think if he had had a chance to have that conversation again he probably would have said some things a little differently.”
Merrill said he has talked to Trump recently and that Trump is asking for his help with a project, but did not say what it was.
“He may or may not run for president,” Merrill said. “I don’t know if he’s going to run or not. He has not indicated that he’s going to be a candidate to me and I’ve spoken to him twice in the last month.”
Merrill said Trump liked the poster and asked his staff to have more than a dozen framed.
“I believe the president is committed to ensuring that we have safe, secure and fair elections in all 50 states and the District of Columbia,” Merrill said. “And I know that he’s going to continue to work to make sure that that happens. I know he’s going to use his resources, private resources, as well as those resources that he collect from people that support him and support his initiatives to make sure that that happens.”
Merrill said he did not hear from anybody at Wednesday night’s basketball game that had concerns about using state dollars for the Trump posters.
“We gave out a bunch of Jimmy Buffet posters and we gave out a ton of Trump posters,” Merrill said.