JASPER, Ala. (AP) — Alabama counties are reporting record numbers of absentee ballots a month ahead of Election Day, and local officials say they're taking steps to cope with a flood of mail-in votes that's likely to continue for weeks during the pandemic.
Northwest of Birmingham in Walker County, Circuit Clerk Susan Odom obtained permission from the state to use two additional poll workers and have two tabulation machines instead of one to handle absentee ballots that she estimated could run into the thousands.
As of Sept. 23, at a time in an election year when her office usually hadn't received any absentees ballots yet, Odom's office already had received nearly 260 completed ballots and mailed 640 to would-be voters, the Daily Mountain Eagle reported.
Across the state in Lee County, Probate Judge Bill English told county commissioners last week that the county already had broken the old record for absentee voting.
As many as 10 people per day are working into the evening to keep up with the push, which can cause lines over an hour long some days for people showing up at the courthouse to cast an absentee ballot, the Opelika-Auburn News quoted absentee office manager James Majors saying.
With about 160,000 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the state and more than 2,550 deaths from the illness caused by the new coronavirus, Alabama officials say more than 100,000 voters already have requested absentee ballots and more than 35,000 already had been returned as of last week.
More than 2.1 million people voted in the presidential election four years ago in Alabama, and officials expect hundreds of thousands more this year for the race between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden. The state has added the coronavirus pandemic as a legal reason for voting absentee.
To help cope with the flood of mail-in ballots, Gov. Kay Ivey last week said county offices could begin counting absentee ballots at 7 a.m. on Election Day rather than waiting until after polls close 12 hours later.
The extra time could help speed up election returns, and it could be needed in places including Montgomery County, where election officials said they mail more than 8,000 absentee ballots in a month compared to 5,000 in the 55 days before the 2016 election.
"We are busy. Very busy," said Gina Ishman, the county circuit clerk and absentee election manager, told the Montgomery Advertiser. "That just tells you that voters are concerned about going to the polls on Election Day."
Voters can request absentee ballots as late as five days before the election.