Lee County election officials are flooded with absentee ballots, and they expect thousands more with the general election still a month away.
“We’ve set the record for absentee votes already,” Lee County Probate Judge Bill English told county commissioners last week.
James Majors, a retired captain from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, manages the absentee office. He and his collection of staff and volunteers are handling hundreds of walk-in and mail-in ballots and applications for ballots every day.
Up to 10 people per day are working office hours and evenings to keep up with the push, which can cause lines over an hour long some days for people showing up at the courthouse to cast an absentee ballot.
“We doing everything that we can do to try to get people who request absentee ballots to them as quickly as possible,” said Majors, who managed to slip out of the bustling absentee office for a few moments for an interview.
The completed ballot count as of Wednesday was about 4,500, Majors estimated, blowing away the old record by 50 percent with a month to go.
English and Majors said a lot of the volume comes from people voting early for convenience, not because they’re worried about COVID-19 exposure or unable to cast ballots Nov. 3 in person, the actual legal justification for casting absentee ballots.
"They may be in the courthouse renewing their car tags or paying a tax bill, or they may have just passed by on their way to an early dinner and decided to pop in: 'While I was here, I thought I’d go ahead and vote,’" English said.
Majors and his staff hear that refrain several times a day.
“They have no idea what a hardship and burden that puts on us while we’re trying to serve the people that have legitimate reasons” for not being able to go to the polls Nov. 3,” Majors said.
Majors stressed that his staff and volunteers will take all comers, regardless of their reasons for early voting. However, he said people could probably save themselves and the office time by using the U.S. mail to receive and send their ballots.
Each one is barcoded and can be tracked online, he said.
English speculated that wait times will continue to increase at the courthouse and county satellite offices before Election Day and there will be delays either way. He expects hour-long delays at many polling sites.
English also announced a settlement with federal officials over absentee voting access. He said in-person access to absentee voting staff will be expanded, as part of the county’s agreement ahead of the ruling handed down last week by U.S. District Judge Abdul K. Kallon.
Kallon also struck down state ID and witness requirements for casting ballots, for the upcoming election only.
Drive-up access for absentee voters was cleared, but not compelled, by Kallon for this election. English said that wasn’t likely to affect local voters, as Lee County has no such ordinance in place and would need a home bill from state legislators to legalize it here.
Lee County voters can download absentee ballot applications at AlabamaVotes.gov, have them mailed to their homes – call (334) 737-3490 – or pick one up at the county courthouse in Opelika or one of the satellite offices in Smith Station and Auburn.
Completed applications can be mailed to P.O. Box 1616, Opelika, AL 36803, or delivered in person to the Absentee Election Manager James Majors, who works out of the absentee election office in the Lee County Courthouse.
Only the voter themselves can return their own absentee application. No one can return another person’s application. Only one application per envelope is allowed, even from married couples. Any applications that don’t follow this rule will be returned.
Majors’ absentee office is open weekdays, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., with office hours extended to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout October.
The absentee election office will also offer complete absentee services over the next three Saturdays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at the following three spots:
Oct. 10 – Smiths Station City Hall Annex Probate Office, 2336 Lee Road 430;
Oct. 17 – Auburn Courthouse Annex Probate Office, 1240 Mall Pkwy in Auburn;
Oct. 24 – Lee County Absentee Election Office, Lee County Courthouse, 215 S. Ninth St. in Opelika.
The deadline for applications is Thursday, Oct. 29, and they must be postmarked or returned in person by Monday, Nov. 2.
Get Government & Politics updates in your inbox!
Stay up-to-date on the latest in local and national government and political topics with our newsletter.