Alabama’s absentee voting system doesn’t allow voters to fix disqualified ballots

Alabama voters can apply for absentee on the website.
Alabama voters can apply for absentee on the website.(WAFF)
Published: Sep. 9, 2020 at 6:53 PM CDT
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By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Alabama notifies voters if their absentee ballot applications are disqualified because of missteps in the process, allowing voters to attempt to fix the issues. However, the state does not provide the same opportunity on absentee ballots during the voting process.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill told Alabama Daily News the state does not track how many absentee ballots are ultimately disqualified because of mistakes made while returning them and it is impossible to know how many have been rejected in recent past elections.

“Absentee ballots are tracked at the local level and historically we have not asked counties to track that and to share it with us because we really haven’t had a need for it,” Merrill said.

In order to vote absentee in Alabama, voters have to first submit an application. In the application, they must provide a state-approved reason why they wish to vote absentee, provide a copy of an acceptable photo ID and sign the application.

Because of concerns about COVID-19, anyone can vote absentee in the general election Nov. 3.

Once the application is approved, voters will then be sent a final ballot. In order to turn in the ballot successfully, it has to be signed by the voter and either by a notary public or two witnesses above the age of 18. A copy of the voter’s photo ID is not needed to turn in the final ballot.

Reasons for why an application or the final ballot may get rejected could be not having the appropriate witness signatures or notary signature, failing to mark the affidavit properly, not sealing the affidavit in the secrecy envelope, or if someone other than the voter or emergency designee returns the ballot to the absentee election manager’s office.

Ballots could also simply go uncounted because they arrive too late.

Nineteen states require that voters be notified when there is a missing signature or signature discrepancy on their absentee or mail-in ballot and are given an opportunity to correct it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Out of those 19 states, 13 allow for some period of time after an election day for voters to fix a discrepancy in their absentee ballot.

Merrill’s office said they expect to have over 100,000 absentee ballots successfully returned for the Nov. 3 election. As of Tuesday, Merrill’s office has received 24,705 absentee ballot applications.

Merrill’s press secretary, Grace Newcombe, told ADN that a decision has not been made on whether the office will record how many absentee ballots are rejected for this year’s general election.

Merrill’s office said that absentee election managers are encouraged to notify voters if there is a problem with their application through the mail.

Alabama voters can check the status of their absentee ballot at Voters can also check their current registration statuses there and where their polling places are located.

The website will show if a person’s absentee application is rejected and it will also show if a person’s final absentee ballot is rejected but only after election day on Nov. 3 because absentee ballots are not opened and counted until election day.

The Associated Press reported this week that because of the surge in mail-in balloting and postal delays reported across the nation, the number of rejected ballots in November is projected to be significantly higher than previous elections.

The increased rejection rate could be pivotal in some battleground states like Pennsylvania this year.

If voter turnout is the same as 2016 and the ballot rejection rate equals the 1.4% from this year’s primary, nearly 43,000 voters in Pennsylvania could be disenfranchised this fall, according to AP’s analysis. That’s almost the same number of votes by which Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the state four years ago, when some 2,100 ballots were rejected.

Merrill encourages voters to turn in their absentee applications and their final ballots as soon as possible and that if they encounter an error, then to contact their county’s absentee election manager immediately.

“We would hope that voters would follow the directions that are printed on the application and that was printed on the ballot and if they do so and they meet all the standards that are required then it’s really just following the directions,” Merrill said.

Absentee ballots became available Wednesday.

The last day to apply for an absentee ballot is Oct. 29 at the close of business. An absentee ballot returned by mail must be postmarked no later than Nov. 2 and received by the Absentee Election Manager no later than noon on Nov. 3.

Visit the Secretary of State’s website for all information on how to apply for an absentee ballot and for all deadlines.