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Jefferson County (AL) Split Over Whether to Open Courthouses for Sat. Voting

From left: Paulette Roby, Chairwoman Civil Rights Activist Committee; David Russell, Community Activist; Jefferson County Commissioners Sheila Tyson and Lashunda Scales and Sherry McClain, Deputy Treasurer, Jefferson County Bessemer Cutoff. (Barnett Wright, The Birmingham Times)

By Barnett Wright

The Birmingham Times

Even though her attempts to open the Jefferson County and Bessemer (AL) Courthouses for Saturday absentee voting were shot down in a committee meeting earlier in the week, County Commissioner Sheila Tyson came back Thursday to make her case.

Tyson’s resolution to open the courthouses failed on Tuesday along party lines with Republicans Jimmie Stephens, president; Joe Knight; and Steve Ammons voting against and Democrats Tyson and Lashunda Scales in favor.

On Thursday, Tyson continued to press her point saying the courthouse belonged to taxpayers and not elected officials.

“I’m not going to sit up here and act like I don’t have a problem with you [not] opening the door and letting the [circuit] clerk set up her employees for the taxpayers that pay for this building to come in and vote,” she said. “…I am highly disappointed in the 21st century that this is still going on.”

Tyson also said Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill had provided permission for absentee ballots to be taken on Saturday.

“The secretary of state approved it and as long as it was approved by him, the clerks can work on Saturday,” Tyson said. “…This is all about accessibility.”

She also pointed out that the commission opened the Jefferson County and Bessemer Courthouses for the 2020 elections.

Paulette Roby, chairwoman of the Civil Rights Activist Committee told the commission during a presentation that Saturday voting provided a number of benefits during the 2020 elections including “allowing workers who couldn’t get off work Monday thru Friday a chance to vote.”

“It also allowed students who attend school outside of the county opportunity to return home for the weekend and vote,” she said. “Elderly registered voters could get rides to the courthouse to vote in person absentee.”

“In 2020, we were under a pandemic,” Knight said. “There was a special circumstance issued by the Secretary of State to give people an option to check to vote absentee.”

With a majority of the commission opposed to opening the courthouses on Saturday, the next step is to get lobbyists to push for legislation that establishes Saturday voting, said Scales.

“There is a need for there to be a law change . . . we understand we are in a different climate now; I hope all five of us will be in a posture where we can be able to have a law in place, follow the law and we believe it will be advantageous to all stakeholders within Jefferson County proper,” she said. “We do promote voting as a body. We just want to make sure that as we move forward that we’re doing everything possible in order to make that easily accessible.”

Updated at 9:55 a.m. on 10/7/2022 to include additional information.