Secretary Merrill says early in-person voting is costly, adds the way Alabama votes produces record results


HUNTSVILLE, Ala – Why does Alabama not do early in-person voting? What about ballot boxes? Did you know pre-COVID-19, you had to be sick, working a 10 hour shift or out of be out of the area to cast an absentee ballot? News 19 sat down with Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill to find some answers.

First, technically under Alabama law, the recent surge in people applying for an absentee ballot is not entirely legal. That changed when the state of emergency was enacted.

“The excuse given under title 17-7-3, I’m able to implement as Secretary of State, when we are in a declared state of emergency, enables our 3,631,381 registered voters to be able to say I’m ill or infirmed and will be unable to appear at my polling place on election day, therefor I want to be an absentee voter,” said Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill.

To be clear, for the upcoming election anyone in Alabama can apply for an absentee ballot.
Groups like the League of Women Voters have been helping do just that via drive-thru voting clinics.

Some of Alabama’s neighbors like Georgia, Tennessee and Florida allow for early voting in person.
With some voters casting their ballot up to three weeks before election day.

Secretary Merrill says offering more options to voters will cost more, with little return.

“If you don’t have more people voting, but cost everybody more, why are you doing it? The other thing is, people will say more people will vote (if you had early voting options). In Alabama the last six elections, we have broken every record for participation in the election process,” said Merrill.

Secretary Merrill says he works with his counterparts in other states. He says each state does what’s best for its constituents.

Again, the only way to vote early in Alabama is absentee, which most people will drop in the mail. Now with the reliability of the USPS getting absentee ballots delivered in time to be counted in question, Merrill says Alabama voters can use other certified mail carriers like UPS and FedEx.

“Obviously they can use the postal service. But they can also turn it in, in person. We’ve created other options for voters,” said Merrill.

For the general election, you can bring your absentee ballot to the probate office. If you have concerns as far as entering the building, you can call to see if someone can meet you outside. However, that option is not guaranteed. Merrill says only a certified employee can get the absentee ballot to keep a chain of custody.

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