Jefferson County Commission

County Election Official Contends Moving Office Is Voter Suppression

Karen Dunn Burks

Bessemer Absentee Voting Clerk Karen Dunn Burks accused Jefferson County government of voter suppression in moving her office from the basement courtroom of the Bessemer Justice Center.

Burks made her charges Wednesday in a press conference at the justice center.

“This move places the absentee office and voters of the Bessemer division to be subjected to unfair conditions and accommodations is inhumane,” she said, “especially when adequate areas/space exist.”

Burks in an interview said her office had been alerted that it would move to another location in the basement of the justice center on July 21.

In a press release from the office of County Manager Cal Markert, Jefferson County denied claims of voter suppression.

“Due to the World Games and access to the downtown courthouse being restricted, the commission voted on June 9th to hold the July 12th and 14th meetings at the Bessemer Justice Center, in the basement level ceremonial courtroom,” Markert said in the release. “This space has served as the meeting location since 2010, when the Justice Center opened, because it is the least frequently used space in the building.”

The Bessemer absentee voting office was moved to the ceremonial courtroom when more space was needed during the heat of the COVID pandemic. About a year ago, county leaders decided to build out nearby basement space for the absentee office to move out of that courtroom.

“Understanding that the absentee voter office needed more space, the commission approved a buildout of a larger and more convenient space than the ceremonial courtroom,” Markert said of the 1,936-square-foot space that cost $27,449.50. “Those plans were reviewed by the Secretary of State. The space includes a secure storage closet for the safe storage of ballots.”

Speaking with BirminghamWatch, Burks remained steadfast that the absentee voting office should remain in the ceremonial courtroom.

“You’re denying (voters) the right to have the access and the capabilities and the things that they need because it’s their building,” she said. “Why is it that you felt that you had to uproot us?”