Secretary of State John Merrill expects more than 100,000 people to vote absentee — a number higher than normal because of the coronavirus pandemic. So far, Alabama voters have requested more than 74,000 absentee ballots ahead of November’s general election. But the process here can be confusing. Here’s a breakdown of things you need to know before voting absentee.
Alabama requires you to have an excuse to vote absentee, but the secretary of state issued an emergency ruling that allows fear of contracting or spreading COVID-19 as an acceptable excuse. So where do you start?
You must apply for a ballot first. People can do that by downloading an application at the secretary of state’s web page or by getting a ballot application in person at the Absentee Election Manager’s office for their county. Several groups are trying to make sure people have access to ballot applications. The nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Greater Birmingham is distributing applications at some area thrift stores. But you still have to indicate why you’re voting absentee. On the application, “coronavirus” isn’t specifically listed as an excuse.. Rather, there’s a box that says “I have a physical illness or infirmity that prevents my attendance at the polls.”
Ok, so you’ve got your absentee ballot application filled out. Then what?
If everything looks right and all requirements are met, you should receive a ballot in the mail. From there, there are two ways to vote absentee.
The League of Women Voters has lots of information online here including how to find your polling place, the absentee election manager’s office, and any upcoming debates in your area.
Regardless of whether you vote absentee in person or by mail, you must include a photocopy of your ID with your ballot application, with a few exceptions.
If you’re filing your absentee ballot application in person, election staff can photocopy an ID for you to accompany the application. They can also serve as the two witnesses required with your actual ballot. If you don’t want to or can’t go the witness route, you can have your ballot notarized instead.
How many stamps should a mailed absentee ballot take?
Three stamps should do the trick.
What’s the deadline for all of this?
The deadline to submit an absentee ballot application is October 29th. The ballot itself has to be postmarked by November 2 and received by noon on Election Day (November 3).
There’s been concern around whether the postal service can deliver election mail on time. So to be safe, officials recommend you request your absentee ballot now and return it as soon as possible.
If you want to avoid any uncertainty around the mail and avoid the polls on election day, cast your absentee ballot in person.
How can people be sure they submit their ballots correctly?
There are instructions on the envelope that you use to submit your ballot. Leonette Slay, president of the League of Women Voters of Greater Birmingham, notes there are two envelopes. One holds your ballot.
“And then that envelope goes inside another envelope, which is where your witnesses or your notary sign,” Slay said. “So they never get to see your ballot. That’s already sealed up in an envelope.”
And there’s a portal where voters can actually track their absentee ballots online. You can also check your polling place there to be sure it hasn’t changed since the last election.
Voters in Jefferson County should check to see whether to mail ballots to the downtown courthouse or to Bessemer for residents in the Bessemer cutoff.
This is a confusing situation. What other misconceptions about the process are out there?
One relates to the requirement that voters have their ballots either notarized or signed by two witnesses. There’s some confusion over who can act as a witness. A lot of people think it can’t be a relative or someone who lives in your household. That’s not true.
“Those two witnesses need to be age 18 or older. And they do not have to be a registered voter. And they can be family members,” said Ida Tyree-Hyche Hill, also with the Greater Birmingham League of Women Voters.
When will absentee ballots be counted?
Absentee ballots will be counted after the polls close on election night. The results will be included in the secretary of state’s unofficial election night tally.
What if I requested a ballot several weeks ago but haven’t received it. Can I vote in person if I never get a ballot in the mail?
You’ll be able to cast a provisional ballot on Election Day, according to the secretary of state’s office. Once an absentee ballot application is processed, your name is stricken from the rolls. You can track absentee ballots online here. To check the status of an absentee ballot application, contact your county absentee election manager.