We're back on today's BradCast after a brief New Year holiday break! But it wasn't entirely a break, as Alabama's Secretary of State John Merrill decided to launch a bizarre Twitter exchange with me over the holiday weekend. [Audio link to show follows below.]
The conversation included the state's chief election official repeatedly (and inaccurately) insisting that Alabama's paper ballot computer scanners do not "capture" scanned ballot images that can be retained by the system for review by the public after an election. He is wrong, as I politely noted during the conversation.
In fact, Merrill almost certainly knows he is wrong, since he actually went to the State Supreme Court to block an order by a lower court, issued the day before the December 12th U.S. Senate Special election between Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore, to instruct all county election officials to set their computer scanners to retain all captured ballot images! [We discussed that multi-partisan lawsuit with one of the organizers, John Brakey, before it was filed, and again with one of the plaintiff attorneys, Chris Sautter, after the order was blocked by the state Supreme Court, allowing counties to destroy their captured ballot images.]
Nonetheless, after I questioned Merrill about the inaccurate information he was offering to the public, he decided to block me on Twitter, rather than admit that he had misinformed the public. Here's a PDF that reconstructs as much of the conversation as I could, given that I'm now blocked by him, so can't easily see his Tweets. Moreover, he also deleted a number of his own Tweets after he blocked me, and he repeatedly broke the conversation thread throughout. So, that PDF reconstruction will have to suffice for now to give you an idea of what at least one Twitter user accurately described as a "bonkers" exchange!
It wasn't the first time Merrill would block journalists, election law experts, or even his own constituent voters on social media after someone dared to suggest that he was wrong about AL election procedures. We're joined today by JOSHUA A. DOUGLAS, professor of election and constitutional law at the University of Kentucky College of Law. He, too --- like me, and like UC Irvine election law professor Rick Hasen --- was blocked on Twitter by Alabama's Republican Sec. of State after asking a question, in November, about the state's election code.
"I said, it's not about lying, it's about asking questions of a public official running their elections, and the next thing I knew, I was blocked myself. So, kind of ironically, Merrill blocked me for questioning whether he should be allowed to block others on Twitter who were trying to interact with him about the election," Douglas explains. He wrote about the incident and why it matters at AL.com.
We discuss all of this bizarre behavior, and whether or not it's a violation of the Constitution when folks like Merrill and, yes, the President of the United States, block citizens from being able to read their social media comments. All of which makes what we do --- as journalists, legal professionals and, yes, voters --- more difficult and even Constitutionally problematic in a number of ways.
Also today: Despite Merrill's odd behavior before, during and after the election (Merrill supported Roy Moore), Doug Jones was sworn in to the U.S. Senate today after (apparently) defeating Moore to become the state's first Democratic U.S. Senator in some 25 years, narrowing the GOP majority to just 51 to 49. And, King of the Twitter Trolls, Donald Trump threatened nuclear war again with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and social media had a huge laugh at Trump's comments about having a "much bigger" nuclear button than Kim. But is any of it --- including the threat of war between two nuclear-armed nations --- really all that funny?...
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