2022 Alabama Elections

JeffCo Probate Judge: Tightened Security Will Delay Voting Returns in the Primaries

Residents vote in the 2020 Hoover city election. (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

UPDATED — Jefferson County’s chief election official is warning that a new voting security measure will delay returns from the May 24 primary elections.

Probate Judge James Naftel said Friday that county officials have worked with Secretary of State officials to find a way to expedite returns.

At issue is a new security measure imposed by Secretary of State John Merrill that moves all precinct returns to central computers provided by his office. These two computers cannot be connected to a network and therefore cannot communicate with each other, so there will not be any results released until all precincts have reported and all results are in, Naftel said.

Thursday he said the county would have only one such computer, but Friday he said it had been determined that two election reporting management computers could be used as central hubs for voting returns. One will be at Birmingham and the other at Bessemer. “This will speed things up,” compared to having one computer, he added.

Previously, the chief voting inspector at each of the county’s 175 precincts delivered a data stick from their ballot counting machines to five locations in the county, where the data then was sent over a central network to the main computer.

Merrill’s security move prohibits the voting data sticks from being processed at multiple locations, but his office has agreed to the two locations.

The chief election official will still deliver the sticks to one of the five locations, but they will not be processed there.

Instead, a county deputy will deliver the sticks to the downtown courthouse or Bessemer computers.

Paper copies of the precinct returns also still will be posted on the doors of each polling place and in the Birmingham courthouse jury assembly room, but the public should not look for updated election results as the evening goes on.

“We cannot stop the computers for updates or snapshots of the results,“ Naftel said. “We cannot waste the time.”

The measure is to ensure that results have not been contaminated, Naftel said. “So, election night is going to be slower this year.”

The five centers are at the Gardendale Civic Center, the Center Point courthouse, the Bessemer sheriff’s office, Trinity United Methodist Church in Homewood and the Birmingham courthouse.

On election night, the sheriff is by law in charge of all returns.

Jefferson has about 500,000 voters registered to vote across the county’s 175 polls.

On the brighter side, Naftel said the county has hired its poll workers, and they will undergo training next week. COVID forced the county to limit training sessions to only chief inspectors in 2020.

“Now after four years, we will ramp the polls back up,” he said.