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4 Republicans vying for secretary of state nomination

May 21, 2022 GMT

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Four Republicans are vying for the nomination for Alabama secretary of state, the official responsible for overseeing state elections.

Ed Packard, who worked in the secretary of state’s elections division for nearly 25 years, faces State Auditor Jim Zeigler, state Rep. Wes Allen of Troy, who served nearly a decade as probate judge in Pike County; and Christian Horn, a GOP activist and business owner from Madison County. The primary election will go to a June 21 runoff unless one candidate captures over 50% of the vote on Tuesday. The GOP nominee will face Democrat Pamela J. Laffitte of Mobile in November.

Packard has worked in the elections division of the Secretary of State’s Office for nearly 25 years, helping to administer over 400 elections and training county and city election officials. He said he also worked to defend the state’s photo ID requirements. Maintaining election integrity is a primary function of the office, he said.

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Packard said he wants to see stiffer penalties for violating state election laws, noting some of the offenses are only misdemeanors. “There is a $500 fine for littering, a $500 fine for buying a vote. That needs to be changed,” Packard said at a candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Alabama.

Packard said he would also like to give voters the ability to opt out of the state selling their information to private groups.

Separately, Packard in 2006 reported then-Secretary of State Nancy Worley to the attorney general for soliciting campaign contributions and support from her state employees. Worley later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge.

Allen, a state legislator and a former probate judge of Pike County, is also stressing his experience.

“I’m the only candidate in the race that’s been a chief election official,” Allen said. He also pointed to his legislative work on election issues. Allen was appointed to serve as a probate judge of Pike County in 2009 by then-Gov. Bob Riley and won election in 2012.

After being elected to the Alabama House of Representatives, he sponsored legislation to ban curbside voting as well as a bill to make it illegal for election offices to accept private donations for voter education, outreach and registration programs.

Alabama was one of several GOP-controlled states that banned such donations — a movement fueled by conservatives’ suspicion about donations by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2020 to help offices deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Republicans argued it is needed to protect election integrity; opponents said it would hinder election administration in poor counties and have a chilling effect on efforts to help people register and vote.

Zeigler was elected as state auditor in 2014 and cannot seek re-election because of term limits. The role of state auditor is to keep track of state property. However, Zeigler turned the office into a public platform to weigh in on other state issues, often serving as a gadfly to Republican administrations in the state. Zeigler in 2016 filed an ethics complaint against then-Gov. Robert Bentley, accusing him of misusing state resources after audio leaked of the governor having a romantically charged conversation with a top aide.

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“I will move the watchman role I played as state auditor to the secretary of state’s office as a watchman for election integrity,” Zeigler wrote in an email. He said he also wants to focus on the business organizations section and the role the office plays in paperwork for international adoptions.

Horn, a GOP activist and business owner from Madison County, has stressed his outsider status and support for election security measures, such as voter identification requirements. Horn said he wants hand count audits of every election as a means to fight election fraud.

Horn, who is African American, noted his parents and ancestors had to fight for the right to vote, including his World War II veteran grandfather, but he also criticized what he called modern-day “woke politics” as destructive.

“I will lead all people, as a son and grandson of parents who could not vote, and a brain aneurysm survivor who was paralyzed and cared for by women and men of all races, I want to use my platform to be a bridge to bring people together,” Horn said.

Horn is chairman of the Tennessee Valley Republican Club and played football for the University of Michigan.