MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Wednesday was the first day officially to request an absentee ballot in Alabama for the 2020 general election.
But hundreds of requests have been flooding in ahead of the opening.
Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis, who oversees elections in the county, told FOX10 News that about 2,000 ballot requests already were waiting when the absentee ballot office opened. Workers spent the day processing those requests.
Because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, elections officials predict 2020 could set records for absentee ballots.
“I expect that we will have a higher than normal absentee election response this year compared to recent general elections,” Davis said. “The exact numbers, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
During the 2016 general election, 5,719 Mobile County voters cast absentee ballots – 3.3 percent of the total. The absentee rate for the July primary runoff this year was nearly twice as high. If that trend holds, Mobile County could see more than 10,000 absentee votes in the fall.
Several Mobile County residents were at the probate office on Wednesday to ask for ballots. Anyone requesting an absentee ballot in person can fill it out on the spot and hand it back. That’s what Sue Farni did. The Grand Bay woman got an “I voted” sticker, becoming one of the first voters in this election.
“I hope I don’t change my mind,” she quipped.
The provision is not new. For years, Alabama has allowed people for request ballots in person, mark them and then hand them in.
“This is the Alabama version of early voting,” Davis said.
Farni said she voted absentee for traditional reasons, not because of COVID-19 concerns. She said she will be out of town on Election Day. She said the process was easy, even though she required an additional step. Because the 911 system changed her address, she had to update it at the Board of Registrars down the hall before picking up her ballot.
“I like going on Election Day, but since I can’t do it this year, this was good,” she said.
Voters have multiple options for requesting absentee ballots. They can call or email the office, or download the form at the Mobile County probate office website or the Alabama secretary of state’s website.
Davis said anyone able to sign the form does not need witnesses to request the ballot. Voters do need two witnesses – or get the document notarized – when they fill out the actual ballot. But the probate judge noted that the adult witnesses can be family members. And for anyone unable to find witnesses, Davis added, the Mobile County public libraries will notarize it for free and also make a free copy of picture identification – another requirement of the ballot.
By emergency declaration, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill allowed anyone concerned about COVID-19 can check the box for health reasons as the excuse for not voting in person.
Alabama has drawn fire from some voting rights advocates, who regard the state’s election rules as too restrictive. Davis bristled at that suggestion.
“Alabama, through the laws and the election code is not engaged in voter suppression. As to Mobile County, I know that in terms of how we go about how the elected officials that are involved in the election process, how we go about discharging our duties, there is no hint whatsoever of voter suppression,” he said. “Everyone in Mobile County is very attuned to following the law. And not only the letter of the law but the spirit of the law.”
Although voters can mail ballots as late as Nov. 2 – the day before the election – they may not want to wait that long. Any ballots arriving after noon on Election Day will not count.
Every ballot that comes into the probate office will be kept under lock and key until Election Day. Once the polls close, workers will feed them through the vote-counting machines, one at a time.
Davis said anyone who get absentee ballots but then change his mind can vote in person as long as he does not return the ballot. But that vote will be recorded as a provisional ballot and then will be added to the total after the election if officials verify that the voter did not mail the ballot back.
For Mobile resident D’Antjuan Miller, the decision to vote absentee this year was a combination of coronavirus concerns and the fact that he’s working in Baldwin County that day. This will be the first time he’s voted absentee.
“I might as well do it now when I have the time,” he said. “It was really pretty easy. The application really is easy. It’s very straightforward.”