To the Advertiser-Gleam:

Democrats in Marshall County were denied equal access to this year’s Harvest Festival.

The Boaz Area Chamber of Commerce refused to allow nonpartisan voter registration at this past weekend’s event solely because the name of the group wishing to sponsor the activity identified them as Democrats.

According to Chamber President Jodi Skinner, if you had the word Democrat or Republican, or variation thereof, in your group or business name you were excluded because the Chamber board had passed a “no politics” rule for this year’s Harvest Festival

Clearly, the Chamber meant “no Democrats” because from the onset there was plenty of Republican politicking. The festival opening ceremonies featured political remarks by Republican Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth, Republican Senator Clay Scofield and Republican State House Representative Kerry Rich.

Inviting politicians to speak at the event was in violation of their own “no politics” rule.

And clearly the Chamber meant “no Democratic messaging” because knockoff Trump apparel was offered for sale by a Boaz screen printing business just down from the Chamber office. After the political nature of its wares was brought to Ms. Skinner’s attention, she said they could stay because she observed the vendor “sitting quietly.”

When you’re violating trademark laws, it pays to be inconspicuous. But I’m sure festival attendees found it difficult to ignore the MAGA message screaming at them, especially just after a presidential impeachment inquiry was opened.

We know that at least one other vendor was also selling T-shirts that promoted another political organization. Whether their wares were also knockoffs was not determined.

Voter registration in our state does not require declaration of party affiliation. It is considered nonpartisan by the Alabama Secretary of State’s office, which has partnered with Marshall County Democrats at voter registration events to offer free photo voter ID access the last two years.

While we respect the Chamber’s authority to make the rules for their sponsored events, learning that the “no politics” rule was applied unfairly and instead knowingly enforced selectively gives Democrats and other fair-minded citizens cause for concern.

Purposefully blocking a certain group from participating in a community event because of its name or political viewpoint is pure discrimination. And blocking voter registration activities is a serious form of voter suppression.

Residents in rural areas are especially vulnerable to lack of voter registration access. Many have work schedules that prevent them from visiting the County Registrars office in Guntersville. Some don’t have internet access to apply online. Overall, approximately 21,000 Marshall County residents are qualified but not registered to vote.

Marshall County Democrats are dedicated to voter registration. Our volunteers attend events across this county year-round to help register new voters. In our travels, we have yet to see a voter registration activity sponsored by the other party.

We hope that the Chamber recognizes the irony and shamefulness of its policy and actions, that legal voter registration activities by the Democratic Party was not allowed but criminal trademark violation and Republican Party promotion was permitted.

The Chamber failed its mission to build business and community at this year’s Harvest Festival.

Susan McKenney

Chairwoman

Marshall County Democratic Executive Committee

President

Marshall County Democratic Club

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