Story and photo by Phyllis Jones, Speakin’ Out News Senior Staff Writer
Pandemic. Mandatory masks. Social distancing. Economic challenges. Social injustices at an all-time high. All of these factors are enough to make ones stress level drastically increase. Now let’s add a Presidential General Election that is only two months away.
Frank Barger is the Probate Judge for Madison County. A portion of his duties include making certain that the process for the General Election will run smoothly for those who will cast their ballots at the polls and for those who will be casting an absentee ballot.
Prior to working in the Probate Court System, Judge Barger was involved in nonprofit, program management and program development. He served as an executive for a large non-profit in Florida and oversaw the funding and development for approximately 92 programs. When Judge Barger’s son was two years old, the Huntsville native and his wife, who is from Florida, decided to move to Huntsville, to raise their son close to his family. Once he moved back, Judge Barger still desired to work in the non-profit arena, but opportunity didn’t present itself. “I liked project management. I liked taking a process and cleaning it up and understanding it,” Judge Barger shared. Fortunately for him, an opportunity to work with the former Probate Judge, Tommy Ragland, became available. He became Madison County’s Elections Administrator. “With Judge Ragland’s blessings and guidance, we implemented a lot of new technology and streamlined the process.”
Judge Barger didn’t have a political background, nor did he initially have aspirations to run for office. But when Judge Ragland announced that he would not seek another term, this was the prime opportunity for Judge Barger to consider filling his seat. He had worked closely with Judge Ragland and knew the job well. Plus, his non-profit background actually provided additional experience that he would eventually use for this position.
With COVID-19 still very much alive, this a major concern for a lot of voters. Voting absentee is nothing new, but the number of application requests during this election cycle will be. During the last presidential election cycle, there were less than 20,000 absentee ballots submitted. As of last week, approximately 5,000 applications requesting absentee ballots have been received at the Madison County Circuit Clerk Office. “This is about five times the amount that we normally receive, by this date for a presidential election,” stated Sandy Brown, Absentee Ballot Supervisor for Debra Kizer, Absentee Elections Manager.
Brown shared the following information, as established by the State of Alabama, on how to vote absentee for the upcoming election:
1. Each individual must request and submit an absentee ballot application and make sure it’s sent to the correct county where you currently reside.
2. Include a copy of a valid photo ID with your application. If you do not include your ID, you application will not be processed. You will be contacted by email and by letter sent through the U.S. Postal Services, requesting a copy of your ID. If you do not respond to either request by October 26, 2020, your application will not be processed at all.
3. Applications received after October 26, 2020 that do not have a copy of the individual’s ID, a provisional ballot will automatically be mailed.
4. IDs received before the ballots are turned into the precinct, by noon on Election Day, your application will be processed.
5. Applications and ballots can be mailed or hand delivered. All hand delivered applications and ballots must be delivered by the actual voter. No one else can hand deliver your application or ballot for you.
6. Each request for an absentee ballot must be in a separate envelope. Meaning, multiple absentee ballot requests cannot be placed in one envelope, regardless if individuals are related by blood or marriage and live in the same household.
7. Submit applications for absentee ballots as soon as possible. Do not send multiple application requests. You will receive a ballot, in September, once the official ballots are received from the State. If you have not received a ballot by the end of September, then contact the Absentee Office, which officially opens September 21, 2020.
8. Make sure your address on the application corresponds with the address on your voter registration. If you have moved, you must update your voter registration prior to being eligible to receive an absentee ballot. If voter registration information is not updated by October 19, 2020, you will receive a provisional ballot, provided that you are resident of Madison County.
9. Witnesses for signatures are only needed if the individual signs by a mark.
10. Original signatures on the applications will be compared to the signature on the ID submitted. Computer printed signatures will not be accepted and the application will be returned to the applicant. You can sign above or below the computer printed signature.
11. If your absentee ballot is post marked by the day before the election and doesn’t arrive until a few days after the election, it will still be counted along with the provisional ballots the following Tuesday.
Numerous checks and balances are performed at the time the absentee ballots are submitted to be counted at Absentee Precinct 98 (located in the Madison County Courthouse). Poll watchers and people from the different parties will be present. Designees make sure the affidavits are complete. Brown provides the precinct the number of ballots given. Brown’s numbers are verified as the ballots are counted. Any ballot that is kicked out of the voting machine will be hand counted.
The November 3rd voting experience is one thing that Probate Judge Barger is trying to make as less stressful as possible. There are some things he cannot control, but those he can, he will. As Judge Barger stressed, “There are no changes in voting precincts. They are established well in advance of an election cycle. There are 72 polling locations in Madison County. We’re very cautious about making any changes this close. We never want anyone to think that we’re trying to impede upon the election process.”
Every fall before an election cycle, Judge Barger conducts a training for all Election Day volunteers for Madison County. His training session is not required by state law, but it’s something that he feels compelled to do. This training consists of equipment operation, sensitivity training, etc.
New poll workers are welcomed to be a part of this election process. The only two requirements are you must be a registered voter in Madison County and a resident of Madison County. If additional poll workers are needed on Election Day, you will be assigned to work a poll in your precinct. Most General Elections use 900- 1000 poll workers. Standard pay for poll workers is $150 for the day, including training. The standard pay for inspectors is $200 for the day, including training. This year, due to the CARES Act related to COVID-19, both will receive a $50 increase. For more information, please visit www. madisoncountyvotes.com.
If anyone needs accommodations at a polling location, all you have to do is just ask. Voters are asked to wear masks and practice social distancing. The poll workers have been trained to do whatever it takes, within reason, to accommodate those who need special accommodations. Anyone age 70 or older is entitled to move to the front of the line. Anyone with a disability, whether it’s obvious or not, can also request to move to the front of the line. The Inspectors at each polling location has a table designated to assist those who may need special accommodations.
Auto marking machines are also located at each polling location, to help individuals mark their ballot without assistance. This is a federally required accommodation and is extremely helpful for those who experience tremors.
Currently, Judge Barger isn’t aware of any Election Day suppression being organized. However, if you suspect any fraudulent actions, please contact his office. “Every single person should have the opportunity to cast a ballot. I will do everything in my power to make sure that happens.
Provisional ballots are processed at the polling location and counted by the Board of Registrars. An individual would receive this ballot if he/ she didn’t return their Absentee Ballot, can’t be confirmed as a registered voter, doesn’t have ID at their polling location, demanding to vote at a precinct where they don’t reside, etc.
Now, for those who are concerned if they will miss the opportunity to vote, when the clock strikes 7pm, Judge Barger has this to say, “Anyone in line at 7pm will still be able to cast a ballot, even if it takes two hours. I’m asking the public to just be patient and please vote. People died and risked their lives so we can have this opportunity. Lives were risked for people of color and females. Don’t think your vote doesn’t count.”
Judge Barger doesn’t think the General Election will be a nightmare, but he does expect high turnout and long lines. Based upon past elections, peak times for voting are usually early morning, middle of the day and at the end of day. Also remember, if you receive a ballot by mail, you can vote by mail or you can vote in person, up to the day before an election.
Judge Barger is serious about his position and has a passion for people. “This office serves all people. If you think we could do something better, please let us know.”
If you have additional questions about the upcoming election, absentee voting process, deadlines, or becoming a poll worker, etc., please call 256.532.3684 or visit www. madisoncountyvotes.com.
Did you know that you can override a straight party ballot? If you vote straight party (for instance Democratic), but would like to vote for someone in another party (for instance Libertarian), you can color the straight party bubble on your ballot and then color the bubble for the individual’s name of the other party, for whichever position he/she is running for. Every Democratic candidate will receive your vote, with the exception of the position in which you voted for the Libertarian candidate. The Libertarian candidate will receive your vote for that position. Who knew? Now you do!!