Merrill: Voters waiting to mail absentee ballots ‘creating a problem’ for themselves

Published: Aug. 20, 2020 at 9:54 AM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said voters will create a “problem” for themselves if they wait before mailing in absentee ballots. This comes as concerns flare after USPS sounded the alarm on whether absentee ballots would arrive in time to be counted for the November general election.

“There’s no need to wait. If you want to vote and you want to use the mail service, you need to be wise. You need to be prudent,” Merrill said. “You understand there may be concerns. So if you choose to wait, you’re creating a problem for yourself. "

The United States Postal Service warned many states last week that ballots may not be delivered in time for the November election because of several USPS initiatives and changes. The United States Postmaster General Louis DeJoy reversed course Tuesday, saying in a statement “we will deliver the nation’s election mail on time.”

Merrill suggests people mail in their absentee ballots about a month prior for the Nov. 3 general election because of mail delays.

Right now, Alabamians have until the Oct. 29 to submit an absentee ballot application, which is five days prior to the November election. The last day to postmark an absentee ballot is Monday, Nov. 2.

Merrill plans to propose legislation in the 2021 legislative session to move the deadline to submit the absentee ballot application.

“That will actually require that an absentee ballot application be mailed in prior to the period of time that’s requested now, which is five days,” he said. “We want it to be at least two weeks just like the voter registration deadline, two weeks.”

He calls USPS the most “ineffective” and “inefficient” form of the federal government that Americans come into contact with each day.

“So this is not new. Giving them more money is not going to solve this problem,” Merrill said. “This is a problem of organization. And it’s a problem of structure. And that needs to be corrected by the people with the postal service through leadership from the Congress.”

Barbara Caddell, president of the League of Women Voters of Alabama, supported Merrill’s proposal to move the deadline forward.

“People are right to be concerned about the whole absentee voting process,” Caddell said. “At the time the deadlines were enacted, you could get from the post office, a letter sent across town in one day. Well, that’s not practical for a variety of reasons today.”

Both the league and Merrill want to remind people they can hand deliver their absentee ballot to the elections manager or use common carriers like FedEx, UPS and DHL.

“Now people need also to be aware that the Postal Service is not the only way they can get their ballot turned in,” Caddell said.

The deadline to hand-deliver an absentee ballot to the Absentee Election Manager is the close of business Monday, Nov. 2.

Amid the pandemic, the secretary of state has expanded absentee voting for the general election.

Any qualified voter who determines it is impossible or unreasonable to vote at their polling place shall be eligible to check the box on the absentee ballot application that is most applicable to that individual.

Merrill said state law allows the secretary of state to issue absentee voting guidance during declared states of emergency, allowing Merrill to encourage voters to check the box which reads as follows (in the case none of the boxes are appropriate):

“I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls. [ID REQUIRED]”

Caddell wants there to be a “no excuse” option for for requesting an absentee ballot system.

“The current process requires people like me essentially to lie because the excuses that are on the ballot application do not reflect all my personal situation except as the the secretary of state has made an exception,” she said. “I don’t have an illness. I’m afraid of contracting an illness but it’s not clear in the text of the written application that that’s going to going to work.”

The league also advocates for more changes to the absentee voting process.

For the Nov. 3 General Election, the deadline to register to vote is Monday, Oct. 19.

Copyright 2020 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.

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