Concerned about COVID-19, millions of Americans are choosing to vote by absentee ballot. Due to recently witnessed delays with the U.S. Postal Service, Secretary of State John H. Merrill encourages voters interested in returning their ballot by mail to go ahead and make application for their absentee ballot rather than waiting until the Oct. 29 deadline.

Since mid-September, Alabamians have also had the option of casting absentee ballots in-person. DeKalb Circuit Clerk Todd Greeson is the county’s absentee election manager, so the staff in his office on the second floor of the courthouse can assist citizens who want to fill out all of the necessary materials and cast their ballot on the spot. They can inspect materials, notarize, then send voters home confident they haven’t made any errors that could cause their ballot to be rejected. Greeson’s staff makes a photocopy of the voter’s ID at no charge.

With most local candidates unopposed, Greeson said filling out the application takes most people longer than completing the actual ballot. He said there’s a larger-than-normal interest in voting absentee, with 692 received and 34 days still left to go. Election officials predict that as many as 150,000 Alabamians could vote by absentee to avoid crowded in-person voting on Election Day. Doing this in person could also potentially ease some of the strain on the Postal Service.

Greeson’s office is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. All persons entering the county courthouse must wear a facemask. No one is allowed by security to enter until someone else returns one of the four passes available. Plexiglass is installed so visitors can feel safer lowering their facemasks, which tend to fog up reading glasses. A section of the office is “roped off,” he said, and voters take the pen they use with them when finished.

Greeson said there are no plans locally to offer curbside voting despite a ruling this week by a federal judge that Alabama cannot block counties from offering the curbside voting. The judge also ruled that witness and photo ID requirements for absentee voting violate the rights of certain voters during the pandemic. Merrill told AL.com he will ask the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to block it. The ruling does not require counties to offer curbside voting but says the state cannot prohibit them from doing so.

The ruling applies only to the national election – not Tuesday’s municipal run-off elections.

Greeson said voters over the age of 65 may be exempted from the Photo ID requirement, along with anyone with a documented underlying medical condition that would make it unsafe to obtain such ID.

Greeson said local absentee votes are placed daily, unopened, in a sealed container. His office will not open and scan ballots until at least 7 a.m. on election day and possibly as late as 2 p.m. to include ballots arriving in that day’s mail.

National headlines suggest it could take days or weeks to get the complete count. Greeson said he’s confident DeKalb County will have its results on election night – absentees are usually the first “precinct” entered into the machines that tabulate results from polling places -- and no tampering will happen due to the process of matching names to the list of registered voters and having the Photo ID and affidavit to prevent fraud. Results are certified official days later.

The system notifies poll workers if someone showing up at their polling place on election day has already sent in an absentee ballot, so that person can’t simply show up and vote a second time. Provisional ballots can be cast.

On Thursday, Merrill encouraged voters to disregard letters being sent by a third-party service out of Austin, Texas that suggests the voter’s information is outdated and encourages them to visit a website that is not associated with the Secretary of State’s office. The letter includes an unofficial voter registration application.

Voters can check their voter registration status online using Alabama’s registration portal at https://myinfo.alabamavotes.gov/voterview. It allow allows a polling place search via entering their first and last name, along with their date of birth.

For questions about absentee voting, contact Greeson at (256) 845-8525 (ext. 2) or Merrill at (334) 242-7210.

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