Here’s how absentee ballots are counted — process is painstakingly detailed

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. – In this unusual election year, Alabama voters have already set a record, having cast 91,000 absentee ballots for the general election.

The previous record was 88,000 and there’s still two weeks left to apply to vote absentee.

This year, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill has said due to fears surrounding COVID-19 voters — who are otherwise able to vote in person on election day — can cast an absentee ballot, marking the infirmity or illness box on the form.

In just Madison County, there have been 17,520 absentee ballots cast already and another 8,000 ballots sent out. In Morgan County there have been 1,822 absentee ballots cast and 2,983 applied for, including 620 walk-in requests.

The absentee ballot process requires filling out both the application and the ballot correctly and both forms require detailed information.

On Thursday, Madison County Circuit Clerk Debra Kizer explained how those ballots will be counted on election day. Poll workers have a number of lines to check.

“The first thing the poll workers will do is look at the affidavit form from the voter and they’ll make sure all the blanks have been filled in,” Kizer said. “So we have to know where they live again, we have to know where their birthdate is. We have to know the reason why they voted absentee. There has to be a signature of the voter. That’s very important. And then the ballot has to be notarized, or have two witnesses. So we go through and check to make sure all of that information is on all the ballots.

“So once we’ve done that, made sure that everything is completed that needs to be completed on the affidavit, then we open the affidavit form, and pull out the secrecy envelope. So our secrecy envelope gets set aside, and we open all the affidavits. And then the affidavits are taken away and boxed up because they’re part of the record of election.”

Poll workers then open the secrecy envelope which contains the ballot. A stack of ballots is placed into the vote counting machine. Kizer said their DS-850 machine can count about 200 full size ballots a minute.

If there is a problem ballot, like with smudges, the machine will kick it out. If that fails two to three times, they will hand count it.

They already hand count electronic ballots that come from overseas and military voters.

Monday is the last day for an Alabama resident to register to vote.
The absentee ballot application deadline is Oct. 29. The absentee ballot has to be postmarked by Nov. 2 and delivered by noon Nov. 3, or turned in, in-person by Nov. 2.

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