Alabama Legislature

Absentee Voting Bills Pass First Vote

Lines of voters stretched from the courthouse across Linn Park on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, as voters waited to cast their absentee ballots in person. (Photo by Vickey Williams)

MONTGOMERY — Legislation dealing with absentee voting in Alabama overcame the first legislative hurdle Wednesday as the bills passed through the House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee.

A bill that would allow for more sites to be opened in a county to accept in-person absentee ballots was debated and approved.

House Bill 507 sponsor Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, said it is needed in larger counties such as Jefferson County, where voters can return their absentee ballots in person only at the downtown county courthouse.

“I was one of the few Republicans who’s willing to say early voting is OK, so in-person absentee voting I’m willing to say is OK,” Garrett said. “But most people don’t agree with that.”

Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, opposes the bill and said he doesn’t like the idea of expanding early voting.

“We’re going down a slippery slope,” Pringle said. “Let’s just make it easier, and easier, well how much easier do we have to make it?”

The bill says county commissions would have to decide whether to expand voting sites to locations other than courthouses, and the sites could be opened as early as 14 days before an election. The absentee election manager would have to be present at the location for ballots to be cast.

House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Fincher, R-Woodland, also opposed the bill, saying he was concerned that circuit clerks, who oversee absentee voting in counties, would be overburdened with extra work.

“I’m worried that circuit clerks would be doing double duty,” Fincher said.

The bill passed on a voice vote and now goes to the full House.

Revised Absentee Application Due Date

The committee also approved legislation to allow absentee ballots to be counted beginning at 7 a.m. on election day and requiring absentee ballot application forms to be received earlier by the absentee election manager.

House Bill 538 from Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, would require that absentee ballot applications be mailed to the election manager’s office 10 days before an election or hand delivered five days before an election. Current state law says no matter whether you are mailing or hand-delivering an absentee application, it must be submitted to the absentee election manager’s office no later than 5 days before an election.

Baker said that after the delays and problems seen with the U.S. postal service during the 2020 election, he thought the added time to process the applications was needed.

“Within the election process, the ballot will be counted in a timely and efficient manner, which will make the release of unofficial election results happen on election night,” Baker said.

This bill does not change when a completed absentee ballot must be returned, which by mail must be received by the absentee election manager no later than noon on election day. If hand-delivered the ballot must be in the manager’s office by the close of business, or no later than 5 p.m., the day before election day.

Secretary of State John Merrill allowed for absentee ballots to start being counted at 7 a.m. during the Nov. 3 election because of the dramatic increase in absentee votes cast last year. Normally, they count begins at noon on election day.

The bill passed on a voice vote with no one speaking against it. It now goes to the full House.