Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill tells reporters that his staff will monitor the runoff on the Montgomery city election on Oct. 8. (Mike Cason/[email protected])
Alabama’s top elections official said no voter will be turned away from the polls on Nov. 3 for not wearing a mask.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said in an interview that Alabama’s current statewide mask order specifically excludes polling places and that no one will be prevented from casting a ballot in person if they don’t wear a mask.
“Nobody that votes is required to wear a mask when they vote,” Merrill said.
Merrill said he expects the Nov. 3 general election to have record-setting participation despite the pandemic.
“We will have the highest voter participation in the history of the state of Alabama on November 3,” Merrill said. “Not only that, but we’ll break every record in the history of the state for participation through the absentee process as well.”
Merrill said poll workers will not be required to wear a mask either.
“It’s suggested that they wear a mask,” Merrill said. “There is not a law in the state that indicates that anybody is supposed to wear a mask [at the polling place]. But it’s obviously encouraged not just by the governor and Dr. Harris but by all health care professionals that know or understand anything related to what we’re currently facing.
“And so we want to be supportive of the order from the governor and from Dr. Harris for people to wear face coverings.”
Absentee ballot rules
Merrill said any Alabamian who feels uncomfortable voting in person because of the COVID-19 pandemic can vote absentee for this election.
Registered voters can download the application for an absentee ballot from the Secretary of State’s website, or by requesting the application from their local absentee election manager, usually the circuit court clerk.
“Any voter that’s concerned about appearing at their assigned polling place on Election Day, because they have a high level of anxiety, because they are afraid of the coronavirus or they don’t want to get around people, they need to make sure that they apply for an absentee ballot,” Merrill said.
On the absentee ballot application, Merrill said voters can mark the box that reads “I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls.”
“That’s a universal excuse that can be used for anyone for any purpose in this election cycle,” Merrill said.
The absentee ballot application must also include a copy of a valid photo ID such as a driver’s license, and must be received at your county’s absentee election manager no later than five days before the election.
Alabama has more than 3.6 million registered voters. Voter registration information is available online at Alabamavotes.gov.
Merrill said those who plan on voting absentee should not wait until the deadline, and his office is purchasing advertisements to urge people to apply for their absentee ballots early.
“If they want to vote away from the polls, the time to think about doing that is not on October 28,” Merrill said. “The time to think about doing that is today.”
No ‘mask police’
Merrill said any voter who is not allowed to cast a ballot because they are not wearing a mask should call the secretary of state’s office at 334-242-7200 or his cell phone at 334-328-2787.
He said there were at least two instances in the July runoff elections in which poll workers tried to tell people to wear a mask.
“We had at least two locations where people thought they were the mask police, instead of being a poll worker,” Merrill said. “That didn’t end very well for them. And it won’t end well for them on November 3.”
Those instances aside, Merrill said Alabama’s July 14 runoff elections went “very, very smoothly.”
“We had no incidents or occurrences that were negative that were introduced to us,” Merrill said. “So we’re very confident that we’ll continue on that path toward November 3.”
Other COVID-19 precautions
Merrill said he reviewed both documents and appreciated the input, but many of the specifics of polling places, such as distancing requirements, cleaning procedures and the locations of the polling places are up to local election officials at each polling site.
“Basically all of the things that [IDSA] suggested in the polling place siting were already taking place and those things are organized at the county level anyway,” Merrill said. “We have encouraged our counties and county election leaders to make sure that they are following these practices, as they have established guidelines at each one of our 1,980 polling sites in the state to make sure that they were in compliance with the CDC guidelines and the recommendations that have been made by Dr. [Scott] Harris as our state health officer.”
There are funds available to help county election officials obtain things like plexiglass shields or providing free [optional] masks for voters who did not bring one.
Merrill said his office will ensure that election officials are provided with enough personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to “remove anxiety from them as well as voters by providing face masks, latex and non-latex gloves, hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray, disinfectant wipes.”
Merrill said his office’s priorities during this election are “no different than they normally are.”
“That’s making sure that in all 67 counties, the 68 probate judges are fully prepared for the administration of the election,” Merrill said. “That they have all the resources and materials that they need, that all 1,980 polling sites are in compliance with ADA standards as well as in this particular time during the COVID, CDC suggestions about what should be done to make sure that they are going to be safe and secure.”