Jefferson county voters may have ballots thrown out after court rules they must have witnesses sign their ballots

A polling place worker adjusts gloves as she tends to a reception table during the Florida primary election at the First United Methodist Church, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Jupiter, Fla. As Florida officials try to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, the state's voters headed to the polls to cast ballots in the Democratic presidential primary. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Thousands of Jefferson county voters may have their ballots thrown out after a flip flop decision on whether voters need witnesses to sign their mail-in ballots. According to a BuzzFeed article, elections officials sent out a waiver with absentee ballots allowing voters with some medical conditions to bypass a state law requiring them to have witnesses sign their ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, on Oct. 13, the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reversed that order and reinstated the witness requirement. The original law states that all absentee votes must be signed by two witnesses or a notary, along with the voter signature as well.  On Sept. 30, a federal judge blocked the witness requirement for voters with underlying medical conditions that put them at higher risk of COVID-19.

Deuel Ross, an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, has been working on the issue and believes the county hasn’t done anything to remedy the situation. Voters have not been notified on how to fix their ballots so that they will count. Ross’s organization and others have sent letters to Jefferson county officials asking them to alert voters to the issue and come up with a way to “cure” ballots that don’t meet the proper requirements now. 

“We understand that your office has been managing a historic volume of absentee ballot applications and in-person absentee voters in recent weeks,” the letter states. “However, it is crucial that voters are given the opportunity to correct any issue with their ballot that resulted through no fault of their own.”

With record-breaking numbers of people voting via absentee or mail-in ballots, this issue stands to affect many people. Ross stated he didn’t know how many people received the waiver form, but the numbers could be in the thousands. It is unknown if this issue is affecting other counties in Alabama. 

“Jefferson County was trying to do the right thing and inform voters,” Ross stated to Buzzfeed. “Unfortunately, the higher court stepped in and prevented voters from continuing to have that option after the two-week period there, so I think Jefferson County can and should do everything they can … and give voters a chance to cure their ballots.”

Along with this last-minute change to voting rules, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5–3 last week to allow Alabama to ban local election officials from offering curbside voting on Election Day to people with disabilities that put them at higher risk from the coronavirus.

On Monday, the Absentee Elections Manager Jackie Anderson Smith released a press release regarding the issue. The announcement states that there is a plan in place for any voters that have a blue waiver with their ballot.  Returned ballots with a waiver provided by the Jefferson County Absentee office that are postmarked on or before Oct. 13, 2020, will be counted.  If a voter believes that they fall in this category or voted absentee by mail, utilizing a blue waiver, and their ballot was postmarked on or after Oct. 14, should call 205-325-5360.