Absentee ballot deadline extended

Published 11:00 pm Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Overseas voters from Pike County are part of the more than 533 military members and their families affected by Alabama’s failure to send absentee ballots out by Jan. 28.

Wednesday, Judge Myron Thompson granted a request from the U.S. Department of Justice for a temporary restraining order against Alabama and Secretary of State Beth Chapman’s office. The restraining order followed a federal lawsuit filed Friday.

The state’s failure to send out absentee ballots to overseas voters on time is a violation of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act.

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The Act requires ballots be sent out 45-days prior to an election in order for voters to receive, mark and return their ballots on time. The DOJ also reported that Alabama failed to meet the deadline during the November 2010.

The DOJ restraining order requires Alabama to provide “all relevant facts” related to the violations and a solution to the problem by March 3.

Among the DOJ’s recommendations are to give voters the option of having their ballot transmitted via e-mail and returned by Express Mail at no charge to them.

According to the temporary restraining order, at least 25 counties reported sending in ballots after the 45-day deadline. Baldwin, Bullock, Calhoun, Chilton, Coffee, Conecuh, Cullman, Dale, Dallas, Elmore, Etowah, Hale, Jefferson, Lauderdale, Limestone, Madison, Marshall, Mobile, Montgomery, Morgan, Pike, St. Clair, Sumter and Tuscaloosa Counties were all named.

Pike County Circuit Clerk Jamie Scarbrough said that, although Pike County is named in the suit, there is nothing the county could have done to send ballots out on time.

“Ballots were shipped to us on Jan. 31. We didn’t get our ballots until Feb. 1,” Scarbrough explained. “The same day we got them, I mailed them out to our military voters.”

Scarbrough said she wasn’t sure what the hold-up was on sending ballots out to some counties, but there was a change made to the Republican ballot by Chapman. That may have affected the ship date.

“We had no option,” Scarbrough said. “We couldn’t meet a Jan. 28 deadline when we didn’t get the ballots until Feb. 1.”

Seven military members from Pike County requested absentee ballots for this election, Scabrough reported.

On Feb. 10, Chapman issued a news release explaining that the state would count absentee ballots from overseas voters for an extended period of eight days.

The DOJ has accused that Chapman’s office extended the deadline to return ballots only after the federal government approached her.

For other absentee voters in the primary election, March 8 is the last day for a person to apply for an absentee ballot. March 12 is the last day for a voter to hand-deliver or postmark an absentee ballot. If a run-off election is necessary, the deadline to register to vote is April 13, the last day to apply for an absentee ballot is April 19 and the last day to hand-deliver or postmark an absentee ballot is April 23.

The general election is set for Nov. 6.