Corrected — Help is on the way to deal with a flood of Jefferson County absentee ballots in the general election.
Deputy county manager Cal Markert during a Jefferson County Commission meeting Thursday said 24 temporary workers are expected to start work in the clerk’s office by Monday. These temp workers will deal with in-person absentee voters as well as a backlog of mailed-in absentee ballots.
Circuit Clerk Jacqueline Anderson-Smith told BirminghamWatch recently that 400 to 500 persons have been coming to the Birmingham Courthouse every day to cast their ballots. A similar wave of voters is descending on the Bessemer Courthouse, and lines of people wanting to vote have formed at both locations.
Alabama appears on its way to having a record number of absentee ballots cast this year. More than 130,000 voters already had requested absentee ballots earlier this week. Oct. 29 is the deadline to apply for absentee ballots.
Speaking remotely, county manager Tony Petelos gave an update on efforts to deal with the heavy load of absentee voters during today’s commission meeting.
“We had IT and general services working with the probate judge’s office and with Ms Smith,” Petelos said. “We’re putting more computers in (and) they’re bringing in some more personnel. I spoke with the secretary of state yesterday. He’s going to help us out. We have plans to bring in more people to help to catch up on absentee ballots.”
The county manager said absentee polling at the Bessemer Courthouse was moved into the downstairs courtroom, where the commission meets when it assembles in Bessemer.
“That gives them more room, but they’re still crowded over there,” he said. “We’re working with the probate judge and with Ms Smith, trying to help them out. I think that with the additional help that we’ve got coming it should help the situation.”
The situation was concerning to Secretary of State John Merrill, who said several voters called his office to complain about long lines at the courthouses and long waits for absentee applications to be processed. He told WBHM that he had spoken with Jefferson County officials about ways to improve the situation, but he declined to discuss specifics.
Merrill said that, as of Thursday, more than 25,000 absentee ballots had been requested in Jefferson County, but only 10,000 of those had been cast.
During Thursday’s meeting, Jefferson County also approved contracts with Laine Federal and Tempforce Accustaff-E-Staff. Each agreement, for three years and no more than $250,000 apiece, is for temporary workers as needed. Those workers could be involved with absentee voting.
The county’s current contract with Darrell Walker Workforce expires Nov. 2, 2020. The new contracts begin when the Darrell Walker contract runs out.
Absentee ballot applications may be obtained from and returned to absentee election managers in the voter’s county, usually the circuit court clerk’s office. In Jefferson County’s Birmingham Division, that is at the downtown courthouse, mailing address 716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd N, Room 500, Birmingham, Alabama, 35203-0102, and the contact number is 205-325-5313. In the Bessemer Division, that is in the Bessemer courthouse, mailing address 1851 2nd Ave. N., Bessemer, Alabama 35020, and the contact number is 205-497-8526.
They also may be obtained online, here.
The absentee ballot itself then will be mailed to approved voters, or it will be handed to them if they apply in person.
The last day to cast absentee ballots in person is the day before the election, Nov. 2. That also is the deadline for mailing in absentee ballots.
Correction: In a separate action during Thursday’s meeting, the commission approved contracts with Laine Federal and Tempforce Accustaff-E-Staff to provide temporary workers beginning Nov. 2. It is under the county’s current contract with Darrell Walker Workforce that additional workers are being brought in Monday to help with absentee voters.
The $500,000 cost of the new contracts is not an extra expense, as an earlier BirminghamWatch story had said.