Jefferson County’s chief election official is warning that a new voting security measure will delay returns from the May 24 primary elections.
Probate Judge James Naftel said county and state election officials are working to plan how to expedite the returns, “but we won’t know how to improve the system until it happens.”
At issue is a new security measure imposed by Secretary of State John Merrill that moves all precinct returns to a central computer provided by his office.
The computer will have no internet connection until after the returns have been tabulated and transferred to a file.
Previously, the chief voting inspector at each of the county’s 175 precincts delivered a data stick from their ballot-counting machines to five locations in the county, where the data then was sent over a central network to the main computer.
Merrill’s security move prohibits voting data sticks from being processed at multiple locations. The chief election official will still deliver the sticks to one of the five locations, but they will not be processed there.
Instead, a county deputy will take the sticks downtown to the one computer.
“The results will never touch anything to contaminate the results,” Naftel said. “So, election night is going to be slower this year.”
The five centers are at the Gardendale Civic Center, the Center Point courthouse, the Bessemer sheriff’s office, Trinity United Methodist Church in Homewood and the Birmingham courthouse.
“As two to three returns come into the centers, deputies will be on-site to take the data downtown,” Naftel said.
On election night, the sheriff is by law in charge of all returns.
“It may not be an ideal plan, but it is all we’ve got,” he said.
Technicians at the Secretary of State’s office are aware of the problems that Naftel and other probate judges in large counties will have.
Jefferson has about 500,000 voters registered to vote across the county’s 175 polls.
Paper copies of the precinct returns also still will be posted on the doors of each polling place.
On the brighter side, Naftel said the county has hired its poll workers, and they will undergo training next week. COVID forced the county to limit training sessions to only chief inspectors in 2020.
“Now after four years, we will ramp the polls back up,” he said.