2016 General Election

Calm Before a Storm? Election Workers Prepare for Alabama’s Biggest Voter Turnout

vote-buttonThe ballots are stacked, pens gathered, poll workers trained and rolls of “I Voted” stickers ready to go.

Election workers this weekend were taking a “deep breath before the plunge,” as Barry Stephenson, chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Registrars, described it. They’ve been working seven days a week since Labor Day to prepare for what could be historic turnout at the polls, he said.

The state has topped 3.3 million registered voters, Secretary of State John Merrill said last week, surpassing the state’s highest registration by 584,252 registered voters.

Likewise, Jefferson County has set a record for registered voters, with 456,000. Before this, the record was 435,000 for the 2012 election, when 302,000 people voted in the county. Stephenson said the county is expecting more than 300,000 voters to show up at the polls Tuesday.

In preparation, the Jefferson County has increased the number of precincts and added an extra 150 poll workers, bringing the total number to 1,900. There will be more voter sign-in books at the polls in an attempt to avoid long lines, but Stephenson warned, “It still may not be a quick process.”

The controversial presidential race has increased interest in voting this year, but it also has increased fears nationally about potential disruptions at the polls. Donald Trump already has claimed the elections are rigged, and some of his supporters are organizing people to monitor activity at the polls in some fashion.

Ed Packard, director of the Elections Division of the Alabama’s Secretary of State’s Office, said his office isn’t getting an abnormal number of calls from people worried about security at the polls, and it isn’t planning to beef up monitoring at any of the polls at this point.

Packard said that, since Alabama is not a battleground state, it is unlikely to be the target of planned widespread disruption.

“We’ll have to wait for election day to see,” he said.

Jefferson County also has had no indications of planned disruptions at the polls, Stephenson said. But the sheriff will be assigning deputies to cover four or five precincts, so if something does happen, they’ll be close and can respond quickly.

Loitering is not allowed in the polling places. Each polling place will be staffed by trained poll workers, and each party can have one trained poll watcher on premises. But otherwise, the only people authorized to be in the polling place are the voters, their dependent children, and anyone they need to provide assistance while they vote, Packard said.

Candidates are allowed to have campaigners or exit polling outside the polling place, but they must be at least 30 feet from the entrance. Photographs also cannot be taken in Alabama’s polling places. Voters may wear clothing or hats declaring their preference, but they have to vote and leave and cannot campaign for their candidate or badger other voters while they are in the polling place.

An Elections Preparedness Kit is posted on the Secretary of State’s AlabamaVotes.gov site that includes dos and don’ts for the polls along with a feedback form to let voters rate their experience at the polls and instructions for casting write-in votes.

If you encounter problems at the polls, notify the chief election official on site or the probate judge in your county, or you can report problems to the Secretary of State’s StopVoterFraudNow.com site.

BirminghamWatch also is participating in ElectionLand, a ProPublica project that will cover access to the ballot and problems that prevent people from exercising their right to vote. You can participate by texting ELECTIONLAND to 69866. Or you can notify BirminghamWatch directly of any issues at the polls by emailing vmartin@bellsouth.net or calling 205-595-2402.