AL Sec. of State compares right to vote to free ice cream

Earlier this week, we wrote about Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate’s vision of voters who lack ID as couch potatoes who likely can’t handle anything more taxing than going out to the mailbox. 

But at least Pate didn’t compare voting rights for a mostly African-American demographic to getting free ice cream, as Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill just did.

As we’ve reported, Alabama recently passed a bill that reduces the number of crimes that lead to disenfranchisement, with the result that thousands of citizens will regain the right to vote. Gov. Kay Ivey signed the bill Wednesday.

But voting rights groups, whose lawsuit against Alabama’s felon disenfranchisement system appears to have spurred the new bill, say it doesn’t go far enough. Felons still must pay fines and a fee to regain the vote, they note, a requirement with echoes of a poll tax.

Here’s how Merrill, a Republican, responded to that concern, in an interview with Think Progress for a story, which you should read in full, on the new bill:

If we had a stand in Anytown, USA and in that stand on Main Street we’re giving out ice cream. Anybody can come. They can only get one cone and it’s vanilla. There’s gonna be some people who are gonna cry because they can’t get but one scoop, and there’s gonna be some people who are gonna cry because we don’t have chocolate.


I don’t worry about the people who want two scoops and I don’t worry about the people who want a different flavor.

Of course, the metaphor doesn’t make sense. A citizen who wants to regain the right to vote only wants the same thing everyone else has — he wants one scoop of ice cream, and he’s not asking for a different flavor. And when you consider that we’re talking mostly about African-Americans, who were systematically kept from voting for most of the state’s history, the ice cream comparison becomes grotesque.

But as with Pate’s comment, there’s a real philosophy being expressed by Merrill here: Voting is a privilege, and the state is under no obligation to restore voting rights to anyone. If the state, out of the kindness of its heart, chooses to take steps in that direction, people shouldn’t complain that it hasn’t done more.

When the people who run our elections think this way, it shouldn’t be a surprise that many states make voting as difficult as they do.

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