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People wait in the rain to vote in Montgomery, Ala., on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said a record number of absentee ballots have already been cast this year in the election. Some counties allowed Saturday voting for the first time. (AP Photo/Kim Chandler)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A record 200,000 Alabamians have already voted in the November election amid an early voting push and pandemic rules that made it easier to vote by absentee ballot.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said Monday that 271,318 absentee ballots have been requested, and 206,552 of those ballots have been returned. That is a record number, Merrill said.

Alabama does not technically have early voting, but people can cast absentee ballots by mailing them in or filling them out at local elections offices. Normally, to vote absentee, people must swear that they are out of town or ill or working during polling hours. But this year, Merrill has said this year people can vote by absentee ballot if they are concerned about the risk of COVID-19 at the polls.

About 2.1 million votes were cast in the state during the 2016 presidential election.

Democrats have made a push to get people to the polls early. "Every Day is Election Day," the state Democratic Party wrote on social media in posts encouraging people to make a plan for voting. Nationally, Democrats have dominated early voting opportunities.

Hundreds of people waited in long lines to vote Saturday after election officials in about a dozen counties opened courthouses for in-person absentee voting on the weekend. Merrill said he is unsure if all of those votes are included in the 206,552 count because some ballots may be waiting to be processed.

Tuscaloosa Rep. Chris England, who is the chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party. said he believes the numbers are "direct evidence" that people want more opportunities to vote early.

England said he expects legislation to be introduced in the next session to allow early voting every year or at least allow people to vote absentee without an excuse.

England said he believes the issue cuts across party lines, and that people of all political leanings appreciate the opportunity to vote outside of 12 hours on Election Day.

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