Odom: Mail-in absentees to be counted by machine, with no delays


Walker County Circuit Clerk Susan Odom pointed out that the absentee ballots mailed in Alabama will be counted by machines - thus avoiding mail-in ballot delays that are a concern throughout other parts of the nation. 

"There shouldn't be any kind of delay," said Odom, who is the absentee ballot manager for the July 14 and the Nov. 3 General Election. 

Results for primary races in Kentucky and New York on Tuesday on June 23 are still being counted, delaying the outcome for many. 

"Get used to it," the Associated Press reported this past week. "Slow vote counts and delayed results are a feature of elections during the pandemic and are likely to continue into the general election in November, when many election officials say that, absent a landslide, it won’t be clear who won the presidential election for several days.

“'Americans need to learn a little patience,' said Josh Douglas, a law professor at the University of Kentucky who studies voter rights. 'The fact of not knowing who won right away is the process actually working.'

"In short, more Americans are voting by mail — heeding health officials’ warnings that close contact at polling places could spread the coronavirus — and mail ballots take longer to count," the AP said, noting that some states are limited on how early they can process the ballots. 

Alabama does not have a mail-in ballot process, except for having absentee ballots. Secretary of State John Merrill says direct mail voting as some states now do would cost an extra $41 million and would invite problems making sure voters were eligible. 

However, under the state emergency declarations for COVID-19, Merrill has said that those concerned about contracting coronavirus at the polls during the July 14 runoff race may check off the following statement on their absentee application: "I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls. [ID REQUIRED]”

Federally-paid preventative measures are also being taken in the runoff for those who vote at the polls and for poll workers. Hand sanitizers can be used for voters, and poll workers will have access to masks, gloves and cleaning supplies.

As for delays in counting the absentees, Odom said Friday there should not be this year, as they are still fed into vote tabulation machines. "Everything should run as smooth as silk in the July runoff," she said. 

Even though the absentee ballots for the runoff are folded when sent out to voters, she noted she hands over the envelopes containing the ballots to poll workers, separate the ballots from the envelopes for confidentiality, and feeds the absentee ballots into the vote tabulation machines. The machines are still able to count the ballots, which are coded to be tabulated.

No write-ins are involved in the runoff, except for a handful of military ballots. Write-in votes during the Nov. 3 General Election will be counted at a later time. All ballots will still be fed into the machines on Election Night and results for those printed on the ballot will be available Election Night, including the presidential results, she said. 

"It counts everything it can count," she said. 

Elections are not certified until a week after the election, which will allow for write-in and provisionals to be handled, Odom said. 

Meanwhile, she noted runoffs usually have a small turnout.

"It is picking up right now (for the runoff), because more elderly people are wanting to do it. But is is always slow for a runoff," she said. "We're probably running average - maybe 200 (absentee ballots).

Absentee ballot applications can be obtained at Walker County Circuit Clerk Susan Odom's office or at alabamavotes.gov. One may also call the Secretary of State's Office at 334-242-7210 or Odom's office at 205-384-7268.

The deadline to submit an absentee ballot application is Thursday, July 9. The deadline to return an absentee ballot to Odom's office is the close of business Monday, July 13, and the last day to postmark an absentee ballot is Monday, July 13.

More information on this years national, state and county elections, including the 2020 Voter Guide and the revised administrative calendar, can be found at alabamavoter.gov