2020 election

Hundreds Stand in Line to Vote Thursday, the Last Day to Apply for an Absentee Ballot

Tanika Harrell, with the circuit clerk’s office, managed the flow of voters entering the downtown Jefferson County courthouse Thursday. Photo by Tom Gordon

The line of absentee voters for Tuesday’s election was long and steady this morning outside the Park Place entrance to the Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham, with voters waiting up to an hour or more to enter the courthouse and proceed to the circuit clerk’s office on the fifth floor.

Today was the last day for Alabama voters to apply for an absentee ballot.

Outside the courthouse in Birmingham, prospective voters were receiving numbered slips of paper that they needed to gain entry to the courthouse, and by 11:30 a.m., more than 400 had been given slips, with dozens waiting to get theirs. Tanika Harrell with the clerk’s office said about 10 absentee voters mistakenly waited in line at the Bessemer Cutoff Courthouse, only to be told their residence required them to apply in Birmingham, were allowed to move to the front of the courthouse entry line. Harrell also said five voters who were supposed to have applied for their absentee ballots in Bessemer had mistakenly been waiting in line at the Birmingham courthouse.

Near the courthouse entrance, Harrell, like a flight attendant, announced the numbers whose holders could now enter. She also said no one could take with them such items as pocket knives, tasers or pepper spray. Anyone going in with those items would have to go to the back of the line, she said.

The voters in line ranged from college-age to elderly, and one woman sat in a portable chair that she picked up and moved as the line advanced. Some of those in line said they were voting absentee because job requirements, school classes or being out of town would keep them from voting at their polling places Tuesday. Another said she also did not want to risk exposure to the coronavirus by going to her polling place.

Two college-age voters said that Tuesday’s election was an important one and that a lot of voters their age had become more politically aware. Both said they intended to vote for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden because they did not agree with President Donald Trump’s policies and priorities.

Hundreds gathered to vote at the downtown Birmingham courthouse on Oct. 29, 2020. Photo by Tom Gordon

Behind them, in bib overalls and sandals, was Terry Webster, an electrician who will spend Tuesday at a job site in Bloomington, Illinois. Webster, 53, who lives in Pinson, said a flight delay had kept him from getting home and voting in person in 2016. Webster, no fan of the current president, said he had worked on the Trump Taj Mahal Casino and Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey, an enterprise that opened to great fanfare in 1990 and later went under. He said some of the contractors who worked on the casino are still waiting to be paid.

Asked how he was holding up after his long wait in line, Webster said, “I’m going to a chiropractor when I leave here.”

Further back in the line stood Asmaou Diakite and her husband, Mamadou, both natives of Guinea, a West African country that has seen much political instability and authoritarian rule since gaining its independence from France in 1958. The Diakites, who live in Pinson, have been residents of the U.S. for about 15 years.

“I might not be here election day,” Asmaou Diakite said. “I’m going out of state, and I still want to vote … so people can hear my voice.”

“It’s a civic duty,” her husband said. Asked to name who he intended to support for president, Mamadou said, “No, it’s personal.”

Laughing at her husband, Asmaou said the same thing.

Although Thursday was the last day to apply to vote by absentee ballot, if you’ve done that and gotten your ballot, you can still go to the courthouse to cast it through Monday.

Absentee ballots also still can be mailed in if they’re postmarked by 5 p.m. Monday. But the deadline for them to arrive in the clerk’s office is noon on election day, making for an extremely tight time frame.

“Don’t wait until the last minute, if you can,” said Grace Newcombe, press secretary for the secretary of state. “Of course, you can always return it in person if you wish.”

The state has crushed the record for absentee ballots this year. More than 316,000 absentee applications were submitted this year and 259,201 absentee ballots have been successfully returned so far, Newcombe said.

The record for absentee votes had been 88,000, cast in the 2012 general election.