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As the Nov. 3 general election approaches, Alabama officials are taking steps to meet health challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.

On Election Day, Alabama Secretary of State John H. Merrill is encouraging the use of masks in polling places and he recommends that voters follow recommended U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, said Grace Newcombe, spokesperson for the secretary of state's office.

"Through [relief] funding made available to our office ... we will be reimbursing counties for items such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray and other sanitation supplies necessary to keep voters, poll workers and others involved in the elections process safe and healthy," Newcombe said via email.

To help voters and prospective voters in Alabama understand changes and how to register, here are answers to common questions about this year's election:


What's the deadline to register to vote?

Oct. 19
 

How can voters register?

You may request a registration form by mail, download the state of Alabama Mail-In Voter Registration Form at bit.ly/al-vote. Then, just print it, fill it out, sign it and mail it in to your local board of registrars. You can also submit your form online at bit.ly/al-reg-form.


What are the requirements to submit an application to register to vote?

Prospective voters must meet the following requirements:

— You must be a citizen of the United States.

— You must live in the state of Alabama.

— You must be at least 18 years of age on or before Election Day.

— You must not be barred from voting by reason of a disqualifying felony conviction.

— You must not have been judged "mentally incompetent" in a court of law.

— You will be required to present valid photo identification when you vote at your polling place or by absentee ballot, unless exempted by law.

To submit an Electronic Voter Registration Form you much have a valid Alabama driver's license or valid Alabama non-driver's identification card.

For questions regarding the requirements listed above and eligibility, contact board of registrars officials at bit.ly/al-vote-contact, by phone at 256-845-8598 or via mail at:

DeKalb County Board of Registrars

111 Grand Ave SW, Suite 105

Fort Payne, Ala., 35967

For the Jackson County Board of Registrars, call 256-574-9339 or send a letter to:

102 E Laurel St.

Scottsboro, Ala., 35768


Who can vote by mail/absentee ballot?

The secretary of state's office urges voters who are concerned about contracting or spreading the coronavirus to apply for and cast an absentee ballot.

A voter may also cast an absentee ballot if he or she:

— Expects to be absent from the county on Election Day.

— Is ill or has a physical disability that prevents a trip to the polling place.

— Is a registered Alabama voter living outside the county, such as a member of the armed forces, a voter employed outside the U.S., a college student, or a spouse or child of such a person.

— Is an appointed election officer or poll watcher at a polling place other than his or her regular polling place.

— Expects to work a required shift, 10 hours or more, that coincides with polling hours.

— Is a caregiver for a family member to the second degree of kinship by affinity or consanguinity and the family member is confined to his or her home.

— Is currently incarcerated in prison or jail and has not been convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude.


How do eligible voters apply for mail-in/absentee ballots?

Absentee ballot applications can be downloaded at bit.ly/al-absent or requested by visiting or calling the local Absentee Election Manager's office, listed at bit.ly/al-managers. Voters may also contact the Secretary of State's office at 334-242-7210 to request an absentee ballot application.

There is also an instructional video on how to apply for an absentee ballot on the state website.

Due to the declared states of emergency related to the coronavirus pandemic, any qualified voter who determines it is impossible or unreasonable to vote at their polling place shall be eligible to check the box on the absentee ballot application that is most applicable to them.

In the case none of the boxes are appropriate, voters can check the box which reads: "I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls."

A government-issued ID is required.

Voters who are eligible to vote pursuant to the Uniformed and Overseas Absentee Voting Act will have until Nov. 3 to postmark an absentee ballot.

Due to recently witnessed delays with the U.S. Postal Service, the secretary of state urges voters interested in returning their ballot by mail to submit their applications for absentee ballots now. Voters can send their absentee ballots by commercial carrier in addition to U.S. mail. No absentee ballot application may be mailed in the same envelope as another voter's absentee ballot application.


How do voters return mail-in/absentee ballots?

The absentee ballot comes with three envelopes; one plain (the secrecy envelope), one with an affidavit or oath printed on the outside and one plain pre-addressed envelope, (the outer envelope). Once the voter casts the ballot, the procedure is as follows:

— Seal the ballot in the plain envelope.

— Place the plain envelope inside the accompanying affidavit envelope.

— Seal the affidavit envelope and complete the affidavit that is on the outside of the envelope.

— Sign the affidavit and have the signature witnessed by either a notary public or two witnesses 18 years of age or older.

— Note that an absentee ballot cannot be counted unless the affidavit is notarized or has the signatures of two witnesses.

The voter has only the following legal ways to return the absentee ballot:

— Forward the absentee ballot by U.S. Mail.

— Forward the absentee ballot by commercial carrier.

— Personally hand their own absentee ballot to the absentee election manager, or delivers by a designee in the case of emergency absentee voting.


What's the deadline to return mail-in/absentee ballots to the county absentee election manager?

An absentee ballot returned by mail must be postmarked no later than Nov. 2 and received by the Absentee Election Manager no later than noon on Nov. 3.

If hand-delivered, the ballot must be in the office of the absentee election manager by the close of business, but no later than 5 p.m. CDT on Nov. 2.

DeKalb County absentee election manager Todd Greeson

Office address:

300 Grand Ave. S., Suite 200

Fort Payne, Ala., 35967

Mailing address:

P.O. Box 681149

Fort Payne, Ala., 35968

Phone: 256-845-8525

***

Jackson County absentee election manager Bart Buchanan

Office address:

102 E. Laurel St.

Scottsboro, Ala., 35768

Mailing address:

P.O. Box 459

Scottsboro, Ala., 35768

Phone: 256-574-9380


Are there any new rules or precautions at the polls for in-person voters?

The secretary of state's office urges voters who are concerned about contracting or spreading the coronavirus to apply for and cast an absentee ballot.

Earlier this year, funding was provided for polling place precautions that include items like masks, gloves, disinfectant spray, hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes and professional cleaning services to return the polling places back to their original sanitary condition, according to officials.

Poll workers have been provided guidance on safety measures and supplied with personal protective equipment to minimize risk. Steps also were taken to make sure polling places were well-staff with workers and backup workers, officials said.

For information about how to vote in other states in the Chattanooga region, go to timesfreepress.com/tnvote or timesfreepress.com/gavote.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.

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