John Rankin, left, walks during the annual re-enactment of a key event in the civil rights movement in Selma, Ala., Sunday, March 5, 2017. Sunday marked the 52nd anniversary of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River in Selma. On March 7, 1965, African-Americans seeking voting rights launched a march across the bridge en route to Montgomery but were attacked by police. That violent episode became known as "Bloody Sunday." (Albert Cesare/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)
Photo: Albert Cesare/AP
Photo: Albert Cesare/AP

Voter ID talk angers crowd at Selma observance

The secretary of state of Alabama, speaking at an historic black church in Selma, angered many congregants when he started talking about the state’s voter ID law during a commemoration of Bloody Sunday.

According to reports from the scene, some churchgoers walked out as John Merrill was speaking Sunday.

"We want to make sure that every eligible U.S. citizen that is a resident of Alabama is registered to vote and has a photo ID so they can participate in the electoral process at they level that they want to participate," Merrill told the crowd, according to AL.com.

The service on Sunday at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church was to commemorate the march across the Edmund Pettus bridge 52 years before.

The Montgomery Advertiser reported that a man in the balcony cried out in protest when Merrill mentioned the voter ID law and then a number of people got up and left. Merrill continued with his remarks.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill speaks during a service at Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Selma, Ala., Sunday, March 5, 2017. His comments about the state’s voter ID law angered many in attendance. (Albert Cesare/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)
Photo: Albert Cesare/AP

“I’m proud to say that Alabama has broken every record for total registration,” Merrill told the Advertiser after the service. “Under our law, it’s easy to vote and hard to cheat.”

Among those to leave the service was North Carolina NAACP President William Barber. 

"We can't be polite about this. We can't be casual or cavalier," Barber says on a video posted to his Facebook page. "We have more voter suppression in recent years than we've seen since Jim Crow."

Republicans have promoted voter ID laws and passed strict measures in seven states, including Georgia, according to the National Council of State Legislatures. More than two dozen other states have some form of voter identification requirement, but do not necessarily require photo IDs. The so-called “strict” laws provide that the voter may cast only a provisional ballot if he can’t supply accepted photo ID. 

Democrats have long insisted that photo ID laws are a strategy for suppressing the minority vote.

"I don't care if you came as secretary of state, to stand up and tell another lie, to push the lie of voter ID and confuse people, normalize it, on a day when the nation is watching," Barber said. "You cannot come and stand in that pulpit and promote a voter suppression tactic and then we just sit there."

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