Gov. Kay Ivey's new health order Wednesday, which extends the use of masks and opens up hospital and nursing home visits, also has provisions which should help during the Nov. 3 General Election.
With a large number of absentee votes expected for the election due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ivey ordered that the envelopes holding the absentee ballots be opened starting at 7 a.m. Election Day to send through tabulation machines. Normally the absentees are opened at noon Election Day, as that is the deadline for mailed absentee ballots to arrive to the absentee ballot manager.
"Due to the declared states of emergency, any qualified voter who determines it is impossible or unreasonable to vote at their polling place shall be eligible to check the box on the absentee ballot application that is most applicable to that individual," the Secretary of State's Office has said in releases. "In the case none of the boxes are appropriate, voters can check the box which reads as follows: 'I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls. [ID REQUIRED]'"
Many election observers have been concerned about how late it could be in some states to catch up with the absentees and mail-in ballots, based on state rules for dealing with those ballots and the large number expected.
Walker County Circuit Clerk Susan Odom obtained permission from the state to use two additional poll workers and have two tabulation machines instead of one to handle absentees that she estimated could possibly run into the thousands.
As of Sept. 23, 640 absentee ballots had been mailed out of Odom's office, and 257 had been mailed back - at a stage in the cycle when usually no absentees have come in yet. More than 101,000 absentee ballots have been requested statewide, while more than 35,000 have been returned, according to the Secretary of State's Office.
Ivey noted the need to "facilitate the counting of an anticipated large number of absentee ballots" in her order.
“I commend Governor Ivey for making the wise decision to allow for the processing of absentee ballots to begin at 7 a.m. on Election Day," Secretary of State John Merrill said in a statement. "This accommodates the anticipated increase of absentee ballots and ensures that Alabama will continue to provide timely, unofficial election results on election night."
On the second floor of the Walker County Courthouse, or using printable applications on the alabamavotes.gov website, voters can still apply for an absentee ballot through Oct. 29, although the U.S. Post Office recommends two weeks before the Nov. 3 General Election. The post office also recommends mailing back absentees a week before the election, although they can return them in person or mail them the day before the election.
Besides coming to Room 207 at the courthouse to apply and vote absentee, one can also download a mailable application from alabamavotes.gov or call her office at 205-384-7268 to ask one be mailed to them. They may also call the Secretary of State's Office at (334) 242-7210. Odom said people can also call her to ask about the process. One can also see the Alabama Voter's Guide online for information.
Ivey also ordered on Wednesday that student poll worker interns be paid $50 for working at the polls on Nov. 3. The student workers, who started working at the polls this year to give extra help to poll workers, were previously unpaid.
“Through funds made available to our office through the CARES Act, we are excited to compensate these student poll worker interns for stepping up and serving their communities as poll workers,” Merrill said.
The order indicates payment will come through the county commissions, and that the payment would also come for work during the runoffs of July 14.
Interested students should sign up online or contact their county probate office in order to become a student poll worker intern.
Ivey's order also allows probate judges in the state "to conduct remote training for precinct election officials and poll workers via live or recorded video or telephone call," the statement said.
The full order can be found at https://governor.alabama.gov/assets/2020/09/2020-09-30-18th-Supplemental-SOE-COVID-19.pdf.
For more Election 2020 coverage from the Daily Mountain Eagle, visit www.mountaineagle.com/election2020.