MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Absentee voting began across Alabama on Wednesday with phones ringing constantly and a steady stream of voters at some county offices as the state predicted a absentee turnout that could far outpace past elections because of the pandemic.
In populous Mobile, workers in the absentee office barely had time to hang up on one call before the next one came in. “I can tell you how it is: crazy," said a worker who declined to give her name.
Numerous people already had completed the absentee paperwork and cast ballots in Montgomery by lunchtime, walking out with “I voted” stickers about four weeks before the election.
Gina Ishman, the absentee voting manager in Montgomery County, said the first-day crowd was far larger than normal.
"At 8 a.m. this morning I had my first two voter and we’ve been consistent since then. There’s been a steady flow. The word is out,” she said.
Wednesday was the first day voters could pick up ballots in person or drop them off at county offices, and thousands more submitted ballot applications by mail early. County workers will process the requests and begin sending ballots.
J.D. Snoddy, absentee manager in rural Winston County, said his office had received about 50 absentee applications early this year. While not many compared to an urban area, the number was notable since the county usually doesn't get any so early, he said.
“As so many have said, nothing is normal this year,” said Snoddy.
The state has loosened requirements for voting absentee because of the coronavirus threat, and the secretary of state's office said it expects as many as 150,000 people to cast absentee ballots as many seek to avoid standing in lines or entering crowded polling places on Nov. 3. That's nearly twice as many absentees as normal for a presidential race.
More than 2.1 million people voted in the presidential election four years ago in heavily Republican Alabama, and officials expect hundreds of thousands more this year for the race between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.
The deadline to submit an absentee ballot application is Oct. 29, and completed ballots have to be returned or postmarked no later than Nov. 2. Large numbers of absentee ballots are raising the prospect that some results might not be known on Election Day.