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Jeffco Commission, Elections Manager Resolve Contentious Voting Issue

Karen Dunn Burks, the Bessemer Absentee Voting Clerk. (FILE)
The Birmingham Times

After accusations last week of voter suppression from the Bessemer Absentee Voting Clerk, the Jefferson County Commission said it will find a new location for absentee voting.

Karen Dunn Burks alleged last week that Commission President Jimmie Stephens was engaging in “potential voter suppression tactic in the Bessemer division.”

Burks held a news conference outside the Bessemer Criminal Justice Center saying she was concerned about Stephens’s decision to “abruptly relocate the Absentee Office of the Bessemer Division to an area that’s not appropriate for voters or workers.” 

Burks said a decision to move her office from the courtroom basement to another office also in the basement created unfair conditions and accommodations for voters and was inhumane. She requested a move to a second-floor courtroom, that was not granted, she said. 

However, the two sides reached an agreement this week for absentee voting to continue in the ceremonial courtroom in the basement of the justice center while the offices of the county manager and general services explore the possibility of moving the office to the second floor.

“The decisions that were made here and to have the county manager (Cal Markert) go up and to look at (the second floor), it’s definitely steps toward the right direction,” Burks told the birminghamwatch.com website on Tuesday. “I’m grateful for the fact that I felt that everybody here wanted the best for the citizens. That’s all I wanted.”

In a phone interview after the meeting, Stephens, the District 3 commissioner whose area includes the Bessemer Cutoff, said the plan is to build out a place that does not disenfranchise voters.

“It’s much better when you talk to people instead of at people,” he said. “I think that we finally talked to each other today.”