By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Area elected officials and clergy are encouraging Jefferson County residents to cast their ballots ahead of the November 3 election by coming to the downtown Jefferson County Courthouse on two weekends in October.
Alabama State Rep. Rolanda Hollis, Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson and local clergy announced Monday the Birmingham courthouse will open on Saturdays Oct. 17 and Oct. 24 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for those who want to apply for absentee ballots and vote.
The early, in-person absentee non-partisan voting initiative is known as “Souls to the Polls” and valid photo I.D.s and masks are required.
“I am so excited to have this early, absentee, in-person voting,” said Hollis during a press conference outside of the courthouse in downtown Birmingham. “This is the first time we will have this… and this is an [important] time for our state, city, county and the United States . . . if you are happy with the things that are going on, then stay at home. If you are not happy with it . . . you need to get out and vote and you have the opportunity to come here on a Saturday to cast your vote. Vote like your life depends on it.”
Tyson said this is the first time voters will have an opportunity to vote on a Saturday and she hopes it can be made permanent for future elections “where we can have voting six days a week Monday through Saturday,” she said.
Rev. Dr. Gregory L. Clarke, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church and co-chair of Birmingham Peacemakers and Rev. Harold Bass, pastor of Olivet Monumental Baptist Church in North Birmingham and founder of Clergy Concerned for the Community, Inc. (CCC), spoke about the upcoming election.
“This is probably the most important time to vote in America than there has ever been,” Clarke said. “We felt we had to be a part of this because our organizations are involved in encouraging voter turnout and this is a great opportunity to work with our political leaders to make it even bigger and better.”
Clarke added, “Often times, people are registered but they don’t vote so we want to make sure that both occur, that they actually register in time and go to the polls to vote . . .”
Bass, who is also a member of Birmingham Peacemakers, said, “It is time for all of us to get to the polls and vote. This is a monumental time where we will be voting on Saturdays, praise God. Make sure you get here and tell everybody about it because it is time for us to change the narrative and make a difference in our country.”
The Saturday voting could not have come at a better time in Jefferson County which had been hit with a “deluge” of in-person absentee voters earlier this month that caused complaints and lines stretching from the courthouse outside to nearby Linn Park.
“We did not anticipate this groundswell . . . We did not see COVID-19, we did not foresee that people would start coming here rather than going to the 170 polling places” throughout Jefferson County, said Circuit Clerk Jacqueline Anderson-Smith.
In addition to the increased number of in-person absentee voters there is also a backlog of mailed-in absentee ballots that has raised concern ahead of the Nov. 3 general election.
Absentee ballot applications are obtained from and returned to absentee election managers in the circuit court clerk’s office. The absentee ballots are either mailed to voters or handed to them if they apply in person.
At least 300 walk-ins were at the downtown Jefferson County courthouse on Thursday and the number has averaged between 300-400 per day for the week with many standing in lines to cast their ballots, and that number is expected to swell, Anderson-Smith told the Birmingham Times on Thursday.
Anderson-Smith said she now has 34 people in her office, up from eight, and has been authorized to hire another 25. “I have the ability to hire more people . . . we were caught off guard. I was looking for a [rainstorm] but I got a deluge,” she said.
Anderson-Smith said she will have 14 phones lines for anyone calling in rather than coming in-person, she said.
At Monday’s press conference, Hollis said the Souls to the Polls weekend event will include entertainment with a DJ, D2 Line Dancing by Desi Keith, church choirs and food trucks.
The last day for people to walk-in and vote by absentee is Oct. 29. The last day to vote by absentee ballot is Nov. 2, the day before the election. Absentee ballots must be either hand delivered to the circuit clerk’s office by the end of that business day or postmarked on or before that day.