Some Jeffco Absentee Ballots In Jeopardy After Court Rulings

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Jefferson County voters wait in line to cast absentee ballots in person at the downtown Birmingham courthouse Saturday, October 17, 2020.

Miranda Fulmore, WBHM

Up to 2,600 absentee ballots could be thrown out because of dueling court rulings over witness signatures on ballots. Jefferson County Probate Judge James Naftel on Wednesday said officials are working to see that every vote counts.

Normally, absentee ballots must be notarized or signed by two witnesses, but a federal judge ruled in September that some older voters with underlying medical conditions did not have to meet the signature requirements because of the coronavirus pandemic. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling two weeks later.

County officials on Monday said ballots cast under the waiver that were postmarked by October 13 will be counted. At issue are those with the waived witness requirements postmarked after that date.

Naftel told WBHM the county is working with the election software provider to more precisely identify the number of ballots in question. In the meantime, he said election workers will contact voters with such ballots to inform them of the opportunity to fix or “cure” the ballots.

A voter would have to come to the absentee election manager’s office at the Jefferson County Courthouse to sign an affidavit. State law prevents absentee ballots from leaving the office once they are received, meaning ballots cannot be delivered to a voter’s home to be fixed.

Voters who believe they may have been caught by this discrepancy can also call the office at 205-325-5313.

74-year-old Lyn Warren Munroe called the Jefferson County absentee election office dozens of times this week, but hasn’t been able to reach anyone. Once, she said, someone took down her name and phone number, but no one called her back.

She mailed her absentee ballot a few days after the waiver was overturned, not realizing it had been. She’s frustrated with her options to either cast a provisional ballot on Election Day or sign an affidavit at the county courthouse.

“But then I’m exposing myself to even more people at the polls or at the absentee clerk’s office, so you know, it’s a Catch-22 for me.”

The Birmingham resident says both options pose a risk to her health, so she’ll forego a vote this election.

Thursday is the final day to request an absentee ballot, although because the election is less than a week away, the United States Postal Service recommends hand delivering absentee ballots instead of mailing them. According to the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office, more than 301,000 absentee ballots have been requested with about 241,000 returned. That shatters the previous record from 2012 of 89,000 absentee ballots cast.

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