MONTGOMERY — The state will notify Alabama voters with absentee ballot applications disqualified because of missteps in the process, giving voters an opportunity to fix the issues, but there's no notification before election day for mistakes with the actual ballot.

It's unknown how absentee ballot disqualifications have affected previous elections. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said absentee ballot disqualifications haven't been tracked at the state level.

“Absentee ballots are tracked at the local level, and historically we have not asked counties to track that and to share it with us because we really haven’t had a need for it,” Merrill said.

He encouraged voters to turn in their absentee applications and their final ballots for the Nov. 3 election as soon as possible.

“We would hope that voters would follow the directions that are printed on the application and that was printed on the ballot, and if they do so and they meet all the standards that are required then it's really just following the directions,” Merrill said.

Absentee ballots became available last Wednesday.

In order to vote absentee in Alabama, voters have to first submit an application, either in-person or through the U.S. Postal Service. In the application, they must provide a state-approved reason why they wish to vote absentee, provide a copy of an acceptable photo ID and sign the application.

Because of concerns about COVID-19, anyone can vote absentee in November by checking the box that reads: “I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls.”

Once the application is approved, voters will then be provided a final ballot. The ballot then has to be signed by the voter and either by a notary public or two witnesses above the age of 18. A copy of the voter’s photo ID is not needed to submit the final ballot, which can be done in-person, by the U.S. Postal Service or by third-party carrier.

An application or the final ballot can get rejected for these reasons: not having the appropriate witness signatures or notary signature; failing to mark the affidavit properly; not sealing the affidavit in the secrecy envelope; or if someone other than the voter, authorized delivery service or emergency designee returns the ballot to the absentee election manager’s office.

Ballots could also simply go uncounted because they arrive too late. Mailed ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 2 and arrive by noon on election day, Nov. 3.

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Other states

Nineteen states require that voters be notified when there is a missing signature or signature discrepancy on their absentee or mail-in ballot and are given an opportunity to correct it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Out of those 19 states, 13 allow for some period of time after an election day for voters to fix a discrepancy in their absentee ballot.

In Alabama, the website myinfo.alabamavotes.gov/voterview will show if a voter's absentee ballot application is rejected. It also will show if the actual absentee ballot is rejected  — but only after Nov. 3 because absentee ballots are not opened and counted until election day.

Merrill’s office said they expect to have over 100,000 absentee ballots successfully returned for the November election. As of last Wednesday, Merrill’s office has received 24,705 absentee ballot applications.

Merrill’s press secretary, Grace Newcombe, said a decision has not been made on whether the office will record how many absentee ballots are rejected for this year’s general election.

Merrill’s office said absentee election managers are encouraged to notify voters if there is a problem with their application through the mail.

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Pivotal to election

The Associated Press reported last week that because of the surge in mail-in balloting and postal delays reported across the nation, the number of rejected ballots in November is projected to be significantly higher than in previous elections.

The increased rejection rate could be pivotal in some battleground states like Pennsylvania this year.

If voter turnout is the same as 2016 and the ballot rejection rate equals the 1.4% from this year’s primary, nearly 43,000 voters in Pennsylvania could be disenfranchised this fall, according to AP’s analysis. That’s almost the same number of votes by which Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the state four years ago, when some 2,100 ballots were rejected.

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