Long lines were reported at many polling places in the Birmingham area today, but no major problems were reported despite projections of a record voter turnout for the hotly contested presidential and U.S. Senate races.
State and local officials said they expect to finish the vote count in Alabama by Wednesday morning.
Barry Stephenson, chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Registrars, said there had been no instances of serious problems.
“We had one instance of some over-zealous campaign workers, closer than 30 feet” from a polling place in Tarrant, Stephenson said. “We backed them up, and that was that.”
Probate Judge James P. Naftel said he was getting reports of long lines. He said his wife showed up to vote at Horizon Church and was told to expect a two-hour wait.
Voters at Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Hoover were met with a line that snaked around the parking lot and to Sulphur Springs Drive. The line seemed to move quickly once the doors opened at 7 a.m.
At Shades Mountain Independendent Church, the line stretched from the door to the street, said head poll watcher Michael Lawson.
Naftel said technicians were dispatched to precincts at Miles College and the Tom Bradford Recreation Center for minor problems with machines after voters tried to do straight-ticket voting but also selected an individual candidate.
Voter turnout is predicted to hit 68% to 75%, corresponding to 2.5 million to 2.8 million people voting, according to Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill. The state already has seen a record number of absentee ballots returned — 300,402, as of Monday morning.
The highest recorded voter turnout in Alabama came during the 2016 general election, when 67%, or 2.1 million people, hit the polls. The previous record for absentee ballots was roughly 89,000.
Merrill said officials took steps to mitigate wait times and to ensure safe voting conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Precincts have been stocked with face masks, disposable gloves, sanitizing wipes, disinfectant spray and hand sanitizer. Jefferson County has paid to have all of its polling stations disinfected and sanitized.
Voters in 63 of Alabama’s 67 counties also were able to use electronic poll books to check in to their precinct, which Merrill said will expedite the process. This check-in system allowed poll workers to scan voters’ IDs to pull up information including the voter’s name, photo and signature. The state first piloted these devices in 2016 and aims to have them fully implemented in every precinct by 2022.
“The reason to use (electronic pollbooks) is to improve integrity, transparency and accountability in the process. And in doing so, you also have some other redundancies that take place that will reduce the wait time 60 to 75 percent,” Merill said.
Stephenson, the Jefferson County Board of Registrars chairman, pointed out that county already has held several elections in the middle of the pandemic that have run smoothly.
“We had a very large turnout in March before all the craziness, and it went very well. We had a decent turnout in July in the middle of this craziness, and it went very well. We had city elections on August 25 and a runoff October 6, and those went very well,” Stephenson said. “So we’re hoping that trend continues.”
If voters do run into any issues at the polls, Stephenson suggested that they first alert the chief inspector of the precinct. They also can consult their county’s probate judge. In Jefferson County, Judge James Naftel serves as the probate judge, and the number for his office is 205-325-5203. The probate court’s general number is 205-325-5420.
Depending on the issue, the county sheriff may be a more appropriate resource, Merill said. The general number for the Jefferson County’s Sheriff’s Office is 205-325-5700. Merill added that voters who require further assistance or have concerns that necessitate immediate attention can call his office at 334-242-7200.
The state political parties also have numbers voters can call if they need assistance or information. The Alabama Republican Party’s number is 205-212-5900, and the Alabama Democratic Party has a “Voter Protection Hotline” at 1-833-468-6832.
You also can contact the NAACP branch if you encounter interference at the polls.
“We have lawyers standing by,” said the Rev. Kenneth Dukes of Montevallo, president of the Shelby County NAACP. “Call the local NAACP branch or the state office.”
You can find those names and numbers for Alabama chapters here.
After the Polls Close
Polls opened at 7 a.m. and will close at 7 p.m. Absentee ballots had to be received by noon Tuesday.
Given the record number of absentee ballots, precincts were able to start opening and counting them at 7 a.m. today. This is a new measure enacted by Gov. Kay Ivey in September to help accommodate the large number of people who would opt for absentee ballots during the pandemic.
In previous years, poll workers were not permitted to start opening ballots and verifying that they met the criteria to be counted until noon, and they were not allowed to start actually counting them until polls closed at 7 p.m.
Counties will have more poll workers and vote tabulation machines this year to accommodate the higher anticipated turnout. Jefferson County alone had nearly 2,000 poll workers, a couple hundred more than it did in November 2016, according to Stephenson.
Because of the additional resources and earlier start time in processing absentee ballots, Stephenson said he expects Jefferson County to finish counting its votes Tuesday evening or “first thing Wednesday morning.” Merrill also said he believes Alabama will have its results in election night.
Merrill urged voters to make sure they follow all instructions Tuesday when casting their ballot and to ensure that they take their ID with them.
“If you follow all the directions and all the instructions that are given to you when you go through the process, then you’re not going to have a problem. And if you don’t, if you vary from those instructions or those directions, then you’re putting your legal vote at risk,” Merrill said. “But the one thing I can assure you is that all legal votes that are cast in the state of Alabama will be counted for the candidate of the voter’s choice.”