MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabamians are voting by absentee ballot in record numbers this year after pandemic rules made it easier to do so, even lining up on Saturdays to cast votes.
And as early voting opportunities prove popular, some are asking the question why the state does not allow this every year.
As of early this week, 134,306 absentee votes have already been cast either by mail or in-person voting, according to Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill. The state’s previous record for absentee ballot voting was about 89,000. Merrill said there were about another 70,000 absentee ballots that have been requested but have not yet been mailed back.
“This is direct evidence that people want to vote early,” said Tuscaloosa Rep. Chris England, who is the chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party.
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.
Alabama does not technically have early voting, but people can cast absentee ballots by mail or in-person at local elections offices. Normally, to vote absentee, people must swear that they are out-of-town or ill or working during polling hours. Merrill has said this year people can vote by absentee ballot if they are concerned about the risk of COVID-19 at the polls.
Election officials in more than a dozen of Alabama’s 67 counties have offered Saturday in-person absentee voting to handle the flood of people.
On a sunny Saturday in Montgomery, people stood outside the courthouse in a winding line to vote early by absentee ballot in the November 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.
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.
Such a change would have to be approved by the GOP-dominated Alabama Legislature. A bill to allow people to vote absentee vote without an excuse or explanation passed the state Senate in 2017 but did not get a vote in the House of Representatives. Merrill said he expects the issue to be considered in the 2021 legislation session.
Asked if Republican Gov. Kay Ivey would support a change to allow early voting or no-excuse absentee voting, spokeswoman Gina Maiola replied that the governor, “is confident in the current process in place and believes that every person has ample opportunity to cast their vote in Alabama, even as we are amidst a pandemic.”
Merrill said the decision to offer Saturday voting is up to local election officials.
“I don’t know why it hasn’t happened before,” Merrill said.