With the Mobile area still in the grasp of a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, one might assume that absentee voting would be increasing as the city’s municipal election nears.
Despite the continuing grip of the pandemic into everyday life, Mobile City Clerk Lisa Carroll-Lambert said absentee voting turnout has felt slow, even compared to the last municipal election in 2017.
“In comparison, it’s kind of slow,” she said in a phone interview with Lagniappe. “I thought because of COVID, it would be a lot heavier.”
Part of the reason for a lack of enthusiasm among prospective absentee voters could be that unlike the 2020 presidential election, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill won’t let potential voters use COVID-19 as a valid excuse to vote by mail. The Mobile City Council even formally asked, but was told “no” the next day, Lambert said.
While the deadline for mail-in ballots passed on Tuesday, Aug. 17, Lambert said the deadline for in-person absentee voting is Thursday, Aug. 19.
In total, as of Monday, Aug. 16, Lambert said her office has received more than 1,000 absentee ballots back from voters. Of those, 592 were mailed in and 436 opted for in-person absentee voting, which is available in the back of the first floor of Government Plaza. There were about 2,000 applications picked up, Lambert said, so the response rate is about 50 percent.
When the council debated whether or not to ask Merrill to consider granting the use of COVID-19 as an excuse for mail-in voting, Lambert told members that many prospective voters would write COVID-19 on the application, even if it wasn’t a specific excuse listed. While fear of the virus is not an excuse, an infirmity is.
When a voter writes COVID-19 as an excuse on a mail-in ballot application, Lambert said she sends the application back with a letter explaining the situation.
Since Aug. 9, Mobile County has reported COVID-19 caseloads of 500 or more every day, except for Aug. 12, according to the Mobile County Health Department. There have been almost 7,100 cases so far in August. That already eclipses the number of cases in Mobile County through the entire month of July. Last week, MCHD reported more than 400 patients had been hospitalized with COVID-19. Infirmary Health, the owner of three acute-care hospitals in both Mobile and Baldwin counties, including Mobile Infirmary, Thomas Hospital and North Baldwin Infirmary, led the state last week in the number of patients suffering from the virus.
The continued rise of case numbers throughout the state prompted Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday, Aug. 13 to declare another virus-related state of emergency. The declaration would allow hospitals to bring in out-of-state nurses more easily and also expand without first receiving approval from a certificate of care board.
Ben Harris, chairman of the Mobile County Democratic Executive Committee, believes no-excuse absentee voting should be allowed in the state.
“With COVID-19 rates where they are, people should be able to vote and feel safe,” he said.
Harris also advocated for early voting.
Tricia Strange, chairwoman of the Mobile County Republican Party, said voting during the pandemic should not be an issue with an available vaccine and polling places encouraging masks and social distancing.
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