News

Alabama: How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts in the 2020 Election

What you need to know, including key deadlines, how to vote by mail, and more.

Grace Han/Thrillist

The 2020 General Election on November 3 is fast approaching, and if you vote in Alabama, so are the important deadlines and instructions you'll need to follow to make sure your vote counts. Don't freak out, though. Take some time to make a plan. The COVID-19 pandemic could mean that casting your ballot might look a little different this time around, so it would behoove you to spend some extra time to ensure you're all set to vote -- and vote safely.

Alabama offers a couple of options for voting. Yes, you can go to your polling location and vote in person, but if you're worried about coronavirus, the state has issued guidance that allows you to vote absentee and send your ballot in the mail. If you choose the latter route, it's crucial to keep in mind how long it might take for your ballot to arrive in your mailbox after you request it and how long it'll take to get back to election officials after you've completed it and sent it. You don't want to miss the deadline and have your ballot thrown out. As for the former route, there are ways to protect yourself while navigating your polling location. Here's everything you need to know. 

What’s the deadline to register to vote in Alabama?

You must register to vote or update your voter registration 15 days before Election Day, making the deadline for the November 3, 2020 election October 19, 2020. Register right away. If you can't right this minute, then set yourself a reminder on your phone or mark your kitchen calendar or write it down on a sticky note and attach it to your forehead -- whatever it takes. 

How to register to vote in Alabama

Alabama has a list of five key requirements you must meet in order to be eligible to register: You must be a citizen of the United States, you must live in Alabama, you must be at least 18 on or before election day, you must not be barred from voting due to a felony conviction, and you must not have been deemed "mentally incompetent" in a court of law.

Residents can register to vote online, via mail, or in person at their local board of registrars. The safest and most convenient way, of course, is to submit a voter registration application online, which requires you to both meet the above requirements and have a valid Alabama driver's license or state ID card. You can also download and fill out a printable voter registration form and mail it to your local board of registrars, or request that they send you a printed form in the mail for you to fill out and return. You can choose any of these options on the Alabama Secretary of State's official voter registration page.

Just keep in mind that submitting a voter registration application doesn't mean you're instantly registered to vote. The country Board of Registrars must review and approve your application first. You can use Alabama's online voter information tool to check your registration status and look up your polling place, or you can use this directory reach out to your local Board of Registrars directly.

Also note that Alabama has a strict voter ID law, so no matter how you register to vote, you must bring a valid photo ID with you to your polling place. If you don't bring one of the accepted forms of photo ID, you may still be able to vote if two election officials are personally able to identify you and submit a signed affidavit. 

Can I vote early?

Alabama sadly doesn't offer an early voting period.

Can I vote by mail?

While Alabama doesn't do early voting, you can turn in an absentee ballot if you're unable to make it to your local polling place on Election Day. Although the state does require you to cite a reason for why you're requesting an absentee ballot, officials are allowing voters who are worried about the COVID-19 pandemic to choose the "illness" option on the absentee ballot application form, which we'll get to here in a minute.

The absentee process takes time, so you should get it started right away if you hope to cast and absentee ballot in time. 

How to request an absentee ballot in Alabama

The Alabama Secretary of State's website details the lengthy process to request an absentee ballot. 

First, you'll need to fill out the absentee ballot application for your county (yes, every county has its own absentee ballot application). The form requires several pieces of information, such as your name and address (for voter registration verification), your party affiliation, the address where you want your ballot mailed, your voter signature, and the reason why you'll be absent from the polls on Election Day. If you're planning to vote absentee because you're worried about coronavirus and don't feel safe showing up at your local polling place due to the pandemic, the state is allowing you to choose the reason labeled "I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls. [ID Required]" on the application form. 

Once you've filled out the form, return it to your county's Absentee Election Manager by mail or by delivering it in person along with a copy of your photo ID. Alabama requires that absentee ballot applications be turned in no later than the fifth calendar day before the election, but you shouldn't cut it that close -- submit your application right now. When your application is approved, the Absentee Election Manager will either mail your ballot to the address you designated (this will take even more time) or hand it to you in person, according to the Alabama Secretary of State's website. We can't emphasize enough how important it is to get your application in well ahead of the deadline. 

How to vote absentee in Alabama

The first step here is easy: follow the instructions and fill out the absentee ballot you receive. The second part presents a slight complication, though: you need to have your absentee ballot affidavit notarized by a notary public (some banks offer this service to customers for free) or signed by two witnesses in order for your vote to count. 

Now, for the absentee voting deadlines. According to the Alabama Secretary of State, all absentee ballots sent by mail must be postmarked no later than the day before the election and received by the Absentee Election Manager no later than noon on Election Day. If you're delivering your absentee ballot by hand, you have to make sure you get it to the Absentee Election Manager no later than 5pm on the day before the election. 

Obviously you should get your completed absentee ballot in the mail well before the postmark deadline to ensure it gets to the Absentee Election Manager in time. Don't procrastinate. Sending your ballot back to election officials on November 2 could mean that it will arrive too late, considering the time it may take for it to travel in the mail. Give yourself at least a few days to be safe. The sooner, the better.

How can I make sure my absentee ballot is counted?

For one, make sure it gets to your local Absentee Election Manager on time. And make sure your affidavit is either notarized or witnessed by two people. Those are the obvious ones. But there are other steps you can take to make sure absentee ballot is counted come Election Day.

Each absentee ballot comes with three envelopes -- one for each component. There's a plain secrecy envelope for the ballot itself, an envelope with the accompanying affidavit printed on the outside, and finally, a pre-addressed envelope that will serve as the outer envelope containing the previous two envelopes. Carefully follow the instructions for using these envelopes. Here are the step-by-step instructions, per the Alabama Secretary of States website:

1. Seal your completed ballot in the plain envelope

2. Place the plain envelope inside the accompanying affidavit envelope

3. Seal the affidavit envelope and complete the affidavit that is on the outside of the envelope

4. Sign the affidavit and have the signature witnessed by either a notary or two witnesses who are 18 or older

5. Place a copy of your photo voter ID in the outer envelope

6. Send the ballot to the Absentee Election Manager by US Mail or by commercial carrier; or personally deliver the ballot to the Absentee Election Manager

You should also try to avoid ripping or otherwise damaging any of your absentee voting materials. This doesn't appear to be specified as a requirement anywhere in the state's official voting information, but it's always a good idea to avoid damage to your voting materials so that your ballot isn't thrown out on some sort of technicality. 

How can I stay safe while voting in person?

First and foremost, use the Alabama Votes tool to locate your polling place and its hours.

While voting by absentee ballot in the mail is likely the safest way to participate in this election, there are ways you can reduce the risk of getting COVID-19 if you plan to vote in person at your local polling place. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has issued safety recommendations for voters -- all of which are simple steps you can take to protect yourself and others.

Here's a rundown of what the CDC recommends, per its official election guidance page:

  • Wear a mask. 
  • Keep a distance of at least six feet from others at all times.
  • Wash your hands both before and after leaving your polling location.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol frequently throughout your time inside the polling place, especially after you touch things like door hands, voting machines, and other surfaces that lots of other people touch.
  • If you cough or sneeze, cover them with a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Dispose of the tissues in a lined garbage can, then use that 60% alcohol hand sanitizer again. 

Those are the basics, but the CDC also recommends a few things you may not have thought about:

  • Don't try to disinfect the voting machine or equipment yourself because you may end up damaging them with cleaners and disinfectant products. This is where hand sanitizer comes in again. Use it right after you touch the voting equipment, and if you use it before you touch the equipment, make sure your hands have dried first. 
  • Try to vote when your polling place isn't as busy. This might involve driving by and checking to see how long the line is.
  • Verify that you're registered to vote before you leave home and make sure you bring any documents you'll need to avoid complications that could result in spending more time inside the polling place.
  • Bring your own black ink pen for marking your ballot, or your own stylus (just check with a polling place worker before you use it). 
  • If possible, fill out a sample ballot at home that you can use to speed up casting your ballot at the polling location. 

The bottom line: use your common sense. We're six months into this pandemic, so you should know the drill by now.

Additional Alabama voting resources

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Tony Merevick is Senior News Editor at Thrillist. Send news tips to news@thrillist.com and follow him on Twitter @tonymerevick.