By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
More than 500 people stood in lines that wrapped around a downtown Birmingham park for the first Saturday of in-person absentee balloting at the Jefferson County Courthouse ahead of the November 3 general election.
The Birmingham and Bessemer courthouses will be open again next Saturday, Oct.24 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for in-person absentee voting.
Meanwhile, in Bessemer, more than 700 voters turned out within a four-hour time frame, said Karen Dunn Burks, the Absentee Elections Manager/Circuit Clerk in the Cut-Off Division.
“Saturday’s turn out shows that the voters appreciate and need the opportunity to have additional days to vote,” Burks said. “Many people work Monday through Friday and the voters should have every opportunity to exercise their right to vote as citizens of Jefferson County.”
County Commissioner Sheila Tyson was among the elected officials pushing for the opening of the courthouses which drew a diverse crowd of residents.
“We thank everyone for coming out and voting today,” Tyson said. “We have been stopped by a lot of people out here. One young lady said she works two jobs and she is not able to vote during the weekdays when the courthouse is open and she rushes to try to make it to the polls. The one day a week that she is off is on a Saturday, so I think it’s a great thing.”
Tyson, Alabama State Representatives Rolanda Hollis and Merika Coleman and other civic and even religious groups were instrumental in the Saturday initiative which they called “Souls to the Polls.”
Hollis said she was excited to see so many people turn out despite the uncertainty earlier in the week whether the event would be held. A probate court judge said Wednesday the courthouse would not be open. That changed once the commission voted.
“Commissioner Tyson and I said we were moving forward no matter what happened, if the courthouse was open or closed, we were going to help the people out here to fill out absentee applications with stamped envelopes, so one way or another, we were going to help them exercise their right that has been fought for,” Hollis said.
“This is beautiful. It gives everyone that works during the week, who have to homeschool their children during the week and who do not have the time to exercise their privilege and that’s to vote,” Hollis said. “This is like a vote or die situation.”
Burks, who pointed to her staff including Supervisor Betty Nelson for helping to accommodate the increase flow of the voter turnout, said the increased in-person absentee voters have averaged between 300 to 500 absentee voters during the week.
“This shows the importance of allowing citizens to vote on Saturdays,” she said.
Princess Brown, 58, from Birmingham, said Saturday voting was helpful since she works during the week and can’t always make it out to the courthouse before it closes.
“We have to make a difference and nothing was going to stop me,” she said at the downtown courthouse. “Since I voted today, I plan to free up my time on November 3 to drive people to the polls and help them because this is so very important.”
On Saturday, social distancing guidelines were in place and masks required and provided for those who didn’t have one. There was also entertainment with a DJ, D2 Line Dancing by Desi Keith, church choirs and food trucks.
Updated at 6:32 p.m. on 10/18/2020 to include comments from the Absentee Elections Manager/Circuit Clerk in the Bessemer Cut-Off Division.