Absentees, voter registration available for primary


Absentee voting in Walker County can be done in-person starting Tuesday for the March 3 primaries - although the voter ID will now be required at application, not when one turns in the ballot, Walker County Circuit Clerk Susan Odom. 

The primary runoff is set for March 31, and the General Election is Nov. 3.  (On a separate, unrelated schedule, various municipal elections will be held on Aug. 25.) An administrative calendar for the 2020 state elections is available at alabamavotes.gov.

Odom said the voting — which can also be applied for online — officially starts Saturday, but her office will start to allow in-person voting in a designated area in her office suite after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday. She invited people to now start mailing in applications. 

The state website alabamavotes.gov links to the Secretary of State's website. There much voting information can be found for, including sample ballots for each county and party and applications for voter registration and absentee ballots. The 2020 election section of the site has Alabama Voter Guide, which can be found online at the site or in booklet form at the Board of Registrars' Office at the Walker County Courthouse. That booklet answers many questions about the state elections process in the state. 

Odom emphasized as the March 3 election involves party primaries, one must request a Republican or Democratic ballot, unless one just ignores the primaries and asks for the ballot with only Amendment 1 on it. They must vote in the same party during the runoff as they voted in the primary, but they can vote for whoever they like in the November General Election. If they ignored the primary, they can vote in whatever party for the runoff they choose.

Voter registration now underway

Feb. 14 is the last day to hand deliver voter registration forms, while Feb. 15 is the last day to postmark an application through the mail and Feb. 15 is the last day to register online. People can come by the Board of Registrars Office at the Walker County Courthouse to register, but officials have noted it is easier to use alabamavotes.gov or the Vote for Alabama phone app if one has the means. 

One may fill out a form and send it electronically, or they may download a form online from alabamavotes.gov and mail it in. Either way, the information will show up on the office's computers the next day and officials will mail the applicant a voter registration card. 

A voter ID card is now required for voting, but a valid driver's license or nondriver identification card is used in most cases (especially for online registration). Federal and state issued ID, including a valid U.S. passport, government ID, military ID and college ID, can also be used. If none of the required information is available, one can go to the Board of Registrars or request a mobile unit to come visit you (with two weeks notice needed for the mobile unit). 

Voters are also urged to update their addresses with the registrars if they have moved and not notified them.  

The Board of Registrars is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, although it will be closed for lunch if only one registrar is working in the office at that time. The office can be reached by calling (205) 384-7279 or emailing to Walker@vote.alabama.gov.

Aside from there or online, one may register to vote in other situations, such as renewing a driver's license, at state and local government offices, public libraries and armed forces recruiting stations. 

As long as you turn 18 on or before Election Day, even if your birthday is after the voter registration deadline, you can apply before the deadline and participate in that election if accepted. 

Feb. 27 is deadline to apply for regular absentee

Feb. 27 is the last day one can apply for a regular absentee ballot for the primary election. March 2 is the last day one can turn one in by hand or have have an application postmarked. Mailed ballots must be received in the mail no later than noon on Election Day. 

One can apply for an absentee ballot that can be cast by mail, commercial carrier or in person at the Circuit Clerk's Office at the courthouse. Application must be made in writing no less than five days prior to the election, returned by either the voter in person, in the mail or - thanks to a new law - by commercial carriers like UPS and FedEx. No one, not even a family member, can return another person's application (except for medical emergency applications, where a designee can help with the process). 

The prospective absentee voter must meet one of the following requirements: 

• The voter expects to be out of the county or state. 

• Being too ill to come to the polls.

• Working a shift with at least 10 hours which coincide with poll hours.

• Enrollment at an educational institution outside the county.

• Being a member of the military or a spouse or dependent of a military member pursuant to the Federal Uniformed and Overseas Absentee Voting Act. 

• Being an election official or poll watcher.

• Being a caregiver for a family member in the second degree of kinship who is confined to their home.

• Being incarcerated in prison or jail, but has not been disqualified by conviction of a felony involving moral turpitude as defined by law. If an application is sent to Odom, she will send the absentee ballot to the prison. 

Separate medical emergency and business emergency absentee applications are available, dealing with the period of five days before the election. The medical ballot is turned in by noon Election Day, and the business ballot must be turned in the day before. 

The physician must sign off on the medical application, while the business version requires an affidavit saying the voter didn't know the circumstances during the normal absentee timeframe. On the business version, an employee must be required by an employer within five days of the election to be unavailable at the polls Election Day. 

An emergency application can also be made if certain relatives of a voter or spouse die within five days before an election, including parents, grandparents, siblings, children or grandchildren. 

Applications for business and medical emergency absentees are also available at alabamavotes.gov and Odom's office. 

You must pick one party for primary, runoff

Odom said that on the application you may request for both the primary and any potential runoff race at the same time. However, they still have to pick one party, and it is too earlier to request for the General Election. She said some people will mark every box on the form — including ballots for both parties. 

However, thanks to a new law, if someone is permanently disabled, if the doctor signs off on it, the application would be good for the entire election cycle — the primary, runoff and the General Election - to obtain absentee ballots, as long as all three elections are marked on the application. 

Odom also said due to changes, a photocopy of your Voter ID must be submitted now with the application, not with the absentee ballot. "I will not provide you a ballot unless you provide me your identification (in the form of a photocopy) with the application," she said. 

The procedure was changed as so many would forget to include it with the ballot or put in the wrong envelope, leading to provisional votes, she said. 

"Now, it is simple. Do it like you do to vote at the polls," when one shows a card to poll workers before voting, she said. 

The 2020 Voter Guide also notes, "A voter who is entitled to vote by absentee ballot pursuant to the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act or any other federal law shall not be required to produce identification when voting by absentee ballot. Voters who fall under this category can check a box on their absentee ballot application, which will indicate that their polling place is 1) inaccessible and 2) they are elderly (age 65 or older) or are disabled. The Absentee Election Manager will not require an ID in order for these absentee ballots to be counted. 

"A polling place is considered inaccessible if a disabled or elderly voter is unable to access his or her assigned polling place due to a neurological, musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, or other life-altering disorder that affects the ability to perform manual tasks, stand for any length of time, walk unassisted, see, hear, or speak.

According to the Voter Guide, the filled out absentee ballot should be placed inside the plain secrecy envelope, which is sealed. The secrecy envelope is placed in an affidavit envelope, which is sealed and then filled with information on the envelope — with two witness signatures or with a notary public. The affidavit envelope is then put inside the last envelope, which is pre-addressed for mailing. 

She said she is not allowed to open the secrecy envelope with the ballot and that no one can linger to connect documents to see how one voted. 

"The poll workers ... get here at noon on Election Day. I turn it over to them," Odom said. "We have one person who opens that affidavit envelope but you have a secrecy envelop that your ballot is in. They open the affidavit envelope and separate the two. So no one knows how you voted, because another person opens the ballots, the secrecy envelope, over here, away from the affidavit envelopes."

Four of the poll workers watch each other in the process so they make sure it is done honestly.  

Moreover, the ballots are fed quickly into the vote counting machine in her office, and tabulations are not looked at until that night. 

Odom said voters who may be confused by the process are welcome to call her with questions by calling her at work at 205-384-7268. They may also email her at susan.odom@alacourt.gov or contact her by Facebook Messenger. 

Election officials at the Secretary of State's Office, including its fraud hotline, can be called at 1-800-274-8683.