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Changes made to absentee voting for general election

Although ballots are not yet available, there are some changes to absentee voting in the upcoming general election that voters need to know about.

Circuit Clerk Jamie Scarbourgh said one of the major differences this year is that a copy of the voter’s photo ID will be required when submitting an absentee ballot application.

“In the past, the photo ID only had to be included with the absentee ballot itself,” Scarbrough said. “This year, it will have to be sent in with the application as well. Voters need to know that because if they send in an application without a photo ID like before, I won’t be able to send them a ballot.”

Applications for absentee voting and voter information are available on the website of the Alabama Secretary of State at www.sos.state.al.us or at www.alabamavotes.gov. They will also be available at the Pike County Circuit Clerk office closer to the date of the general election. Applying for a ballot in person at the circuit clerk allows officials to assist in the process and ensure that eligible voters receive their ballots.

There have been other absentee voting changes that Scarbrough said have been good to clarify procedures and protect voters.

“Voters have to check a reason that they need to vote absentee,” Scarbourhg said. “In the past these have said something like ‘I will be out of the county on election day.’ That has now been changed to ‘expects to be out of the county on election day.’ It keeps the absentee ballot from being challenged because someone expected to be out of town but something changed and they ended up being in town on election day, or didn’t have to work a shift they expected to interfere with voting on election day.”

There have also been additional reasons that voters can qualify to vote absentee, including  that the voter is a caregiver for a family member to the second degree of kinship … that is confined to his or her home and if the voter is incarcerated in prison or jail and has not been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude.

The issue of absentee voting for inmates arose during the mid-term elections when the Pike County NAACP showed up at the Pike County Jail to feed inmates and jailers and distribute absentee ballot applications to the inmates.

Although Secretary of State John Merrill confirmed at that time that inmates who have not been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude do have a right to vote absentee, that was not reflected on the absentee ballot application – and it is a felony to lie on the application.

“The questions on the absentee application have long been antiquated and out of date,” Merrill said at the time. “If someone is incarcerated, we know where they are and know why they can’t get to the polls. We’ve worked on changing the absentee application the last two sessions to make sure it is usable, workable and meaningful, which it is not currently.”

Legislation did make it through since then that allowed the changes to be made.

There have also been updates to what qualifies as an emergency reason for voting absentee less than five days before the election. Previously, this section limited emergencies to business and medical reasons.

“That didn’t allow for if a family member died in that time,” Scarbrough said.

The application now allows people to vote emergency absentee if a family member of the second degree of kinship passes away within five days before an election.

The three acceptable reasons to request an emergency absentee ballot are:

• The elector is required by his or her employer under unforeseen circumstances within five days before an election to be unavailable at the polls on election day.

• The elector is a caregiver of a person who requires emergency treatment by a licensed physician within five days before an election.

• A family member to the second degree (parent, child, grandparent, grandchild, or sibling) of kinship by affinity (marriage) or consanguinity (blood relation) of an elector dies within five days before an election.

The elector must return his or her application either through the mail or in person. Scarbrough said she cannot take a completed application from anyone else, even the voter’s spouse.

The ballot will then be sent by mail and electo¬rs should follow the instructions provided with the ballot to mail it back.

In order to vote absentee, a qualified voter must:

• expect to be out of the county or state on Election Day,

• have a physical illness or infirmity which is expected to prevent his or her attendance at the polls, whether he or she is within or outside the county on the day of election,

• expects to work a shift which has at least 10 hours which coincide with the hours the polls are open at his or her regular polling place,

• be enrolled as a student at an educational institution located outside the county of his or her personal residence which prevents his or her attendance at the polls,

• be a member of, or spouse or dependent of a member of, the armed forces of the United States or be similarly qualified to vote absentee pursuant to the Federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973ff, or

• have been appointed as an election officer or named as a poll watcher at a polling place other than his or her regular polling place.

Separate applications for absentee ballots are required for elections which are more than 42 days apart, except as to individuals voting pursuant to the Federal Uniformed and Overseas Absentee Voting Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973ff.

Completed absentee applications must include the Alabama residence where the voter is registered to vote, even if the ballot is to be mailed to another address where the applicant/voter regularly receives mail. If you have moved and have not updated your voter registration, you should contact the Pike County Board of Registrars at 120 W. Church St. Troy, AL  36081 and update your address prior to applying for an absentee ballot.  You may contact the registrar’s office at 334-566-1757.

The absentee election manager is required to post each day a list of absentee voters to include names, addresses and voting places of each applicant. This list will be posted on the public bulletin board on the first floor of the courthouse.