Were HBCUs Boxed Out of Voter Registration Promotions in Alabama?

While Alabama voters produced a stunning upset in this week’s election, the path to the historic democratic victory in the state’s special election for a US Senate seat may have left several historically black colleges behind in the effort to encourage voter turnout.

In October, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill launched a campaign to encourage voter registration using images of Nick Saban and Gus Malzahn, head football coaches at the University of Alabama and Auburn University, respectively.

But according to AL.com, representatives from the state’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People took Merrill to task for not including Alabama A&M University or Alabama State University in the campaign, a sign which hearkened back to the state’s controversial history of voter discrimination, and the closure of 31 driver license offices in predominantly black cities and towns throughout the state in 2015.


“You cannot go in here and promote Alabama and Auburn,” instructed Bernard Simelton, president of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP.

“I’m not promoting (the coaches or the universities),” Merrill, a Republican, replied. “I’m promoting voter registration.”

Simelton retorted by asking Merrill why representatives from Alabama A&M University in Huntsville or Alabama State University in Montgomery, both traditionally black schools, were also not featured on the promotional posters.

“Where is A&M and ASU? I’m asking you a question?” Simelton said.

Merrill said there won’t be any additional posters made this year, “I won’t produce posters for every college and university in this state.”

Doug Jones, who secured the Senate bid over controversial Republican candidate Roy Moore, earned historic support from the state’s black electorate.


Black voters played a pivotal role in Jones’ upset win over Moore on Tuesday. According to CNN’s exit polling, 29% of the Alabama electorate was made up of black voters, and 96% of those voters backed Jones. Black voters turned out for the special election at a higher level than their share of the electorate when Obama was on the ballot in 2008 and 2012. What’s more, a nearly unanimous 98% of black women backed Jones over Moore.

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