Alabama, Florida differ widely on voting rules

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – As the general election draws near, many Alabamians are trying to gauge whether they should go ahead an apply for an absentee ballot or risk going to the polls in a pandemic.

Neighboring states seem to have figured out solutions for voters, some of which the Secretary of State says are illegal in Alabama.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill is encouraging citizens to vote absentee to ease those fears. The options are mailing in or dropping off ballots to the county circuit clerk.

“We do not have drop mail boxes to return ballots. We do not have have curb side voting. In Alabama we do not have universal vote by mail,” he explained. “Those are all decisions made by the Alabama legislature. The Alabama legislature has not approved those things. Those things are against the law in the state of Alabama.”

In the Yellowhammer state, absentee ballot applications require a photo ID. Actually submitting the ballot requires proof of witness, either by a notary public or two witnesses over the age of 18.

News 19 Political Analyst Jess Brown says historically, Alabama’s voting requirements have always been behind.

“We do not set the bar, we are not the example to be followed when it comes for innovation in election administration,” he said. “We also are a state that the last century suggests has embedded our laws and procedures all sorts of creative devices to keep frankly poor folks from voting on election day.”

According to President Donald Trump, one of Alabama’s bordering states might be on the cutting edge of voting systems.

Earlier this month, Trump, who has been widely critical of mail-in voting for reasons of potential voter fraud, endorsed the Florida system in a tweet that read in part, ‘whether you call it vote by mail or absentee voting, in Florida the election system is safe and secure, tried and true.’

So what are some of the differences between voting in Florida, the state where President Trump is a registered voter, and casting a ballot Alabama?

The Trump-endorsed Florida voting system is seemingly more relaxed:

  • Access to early, in-person voting beginning the last week of October.
  • Even prior to the pandemic, anyone could vote absentee without a reason
  • Once you receive a mail in ballot in Florida, your signature is required in the packet when you send the ballot back.  But, no witnesses or notarization is required as in Alabama
    • The signature must match the signature on file with the voter registration office. 
  • Voters can request a mail in ballot online, by phone, by FAX, in person, or by mail.  If by phone or online, a signature is not required to apply for the ballot. 
  • When you file a request for a mail in ballot in Florida, you can make one check on the form and also receive ballots for all subsequent elections until the end of 2022
  • A close relative can request a mail in ballot for a voter in Florida if the requestor provides their name, signature, and a driver’s license number
    • Requestor must be a parent, spouse, grandparent, child, in-laws
  • Once an application is received in Florida at the election supervisor’s office, a ballot must be mailed within 48 hours to the voter
    • The ballot is mailed to the voter at the address on file at the voter registration office, but the voter may select another address when they file their application for a mail in ballot
  • There is a automated online system so that you can track the status of your ballot and know when it has been received in the election supervisor’s office
  • You can mail your ballot back to the county election supervisor in Florida or you can take the ballot to one of several drop locations (such as branch libraries) starting 10 days before election day
  • On election day if you have not mailed your ballot in, you can go to your assigned polling place with your ballot, turn the mail-in ballot (marked or unmarked) in to the precinct worker and then vote in-person

When you vote absentee in Alabama:

  • You must submit a ballot application, complete with signature
  • You’re required to claim a reason for voting absentee on the application
  • Voters to submit separate applications for absentee ballots for each election.
  • You must include a copy of a photo ID in the ballot envelope
  • You also must have a notary public or two witnesses over 18 years of age to witness you signing your name
  • The voter can deliver the ballot to the Circuit Clerk’s office or mail it using the Postal Service. 
  • You can’t vote absentee in person (early, in-person voting)

Brown said Alabama’s prescriptive voting processes may seem more secure but in the end, there’s concern the system does not benefit all citizens.

“It’s just an example of that that constant drumbeat in Alabama, to make sure that there’s integrity in the electoral process,” he added. “The consequence of that emphasis on integrity is frankly diminishes voting opportunities for probably thousands of Alabamians.”

Brown believes the debate about election administration comes down to a collision between those who want to maximize access for registered voters and those who wish to prioritize the integrity of the voting process, by ensuring that the person who is casting the ballot is actually the registered voter.

Brown said voting systems that emphasize access are popular with voters. He believes one day Alabama will have no choice but to conform to more accessible standards and laws.

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