Decatur’s city clerk said the Aug. 25 municipal election could generate a heavy in-person turnout based on the number of contested races, and the coronavirus pandemic could triple absentee voting compared to 2016.
Turnout could be as high as 35%, City Clerk Stacy Gilley said Thursday.
“This is a pretty big topic, this election,” she said.
Decatur has seven candidates running for mayor, and there are contested races for four of the five City Council seats. Only one of the five school board seats will be contested.
The city had 37,835 registered voters as of Tuesday, and residents who haven’t registered to vote can do so through Aug. 10 to be eligible for the municipal election. There were 33,454 registered voters for Decatur's August 2016 election, and 9,093 voted, a turnout of 27.2%.
Gilley believes a lot of voters will come to the polls despite the coronavirus pandemic.
“Unless something really changes with this virus, I expect to see people voting,” she said.
However, she also thinks there will be a higher demand for absentee ballots than the 306 cast in August 2016 because some residents will vote absentee to avoid the chance of exposure to the virus.
“We’re anticipating about 1,000” absentee voters, she said.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill has said voters wanting to cast absentee ballots in municipal elections because of coronavirus concerns can check the box on absentee applications that reads: “I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls.”
The deadline to request a regular absentee ballot is Aug. 20.
Gilley said voters can come to City Hall to fill out an absentee ballot application and receive the ballot that same day or they can get an application from the secretary of state’s website (bit.ly/39EOS5d) and mail it with the required copy of a valid photo ID to: Decatur City Hall, Absentee Election, P.O. Box 488, Decatur, AL 35602-0488.
Absentee ballots must be returned to City Hall in person by Aug. 24 or received in the mail by noon Aug. 25, with a postmark no later than Aug. 24. Gilley said voters need to allow ample time for ballots to be delivered by mail.
All Decatur ballots will include the mayor's race, but council and school board races will only be on ballots in the district involved. Thus ballots in District 1 will contain only the mayor's race because council incumbent Billy Jackson and school board incumbent Michele Gray King have no opposition. District 3 ballots will have both a contested council race and the city's only contested school board race in addition to the mayor's race.
Moulton Absentee Election Manager Lola Posey said she is expecting a bump in absentee ballot applications, but she hasn’t seen them increase to date. She said she has received five requests for absentee applications since the ballots were readied July 24.
In 2016, Posey said she sent out 28 absentee ballots and 23 were returned.
“If voters felt unsafe in the past, that was not a valid reason to vote absentee,” Posey said. “This election it is allowed because of the coronavirus.”
She said Moulton municipal election voters wanting an absentee ballot can call her at 256-974-5191 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Athens City Clerk/Treasurer Annette Barnes said applications for absentee ballots are available on the city’s website or at City Hall, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
In the mayor’s race, Mayor Ronnie Marks is being challenged by Russell Johnson, Brian Terry and Mark Wilson. Candidates for the vacant District 4 seat on the Athens City Council are Dana Henry and Marcia Day. Joseph Cannon, who previously represented District 4, left the position last year when he became Limestone County’s license commissioner.
In the last municipal election, in 2016, there were two contested City Council races, for District 2 and District 5, Barnes said.