Did you know that in 2006, the Alabama Legislature passed Act 2006-545 which contains the requirement that employers allow their employees time off to vote on election day?
The act specifically states:
“Each employee in the state shall, upon reasonable notice to his or her employer, be permitted by his or her employer to take necessary time off from his or her employment to vote in any municipal, county, state, or federal political party primary or election for which the employee is qualified and registered to vote on the day on which the primary or election is held. The necessary time off shall not exceed one hour and if the hours of work of the employee commence at least two hours after the opening of the polls or end at least one hour prior to the closing of the polls, then the time off for voting as provided in this section shall not be available. The employer may specify the hours during which the employee may absent himself or herself as provided in this section.”
As we approach the coming primary election on May 24, 2022, you may want to consider asking your employer for the time off provided in this law. Remember, however, that your work shift on election day:
must commence less than two hours after the polls open, or
end less than one hour prior to the closing of the polls.
In addition to reading the original Act 2006-545 as passed by the Legislature, you can also read this requirement in the Code of Alabama at §17-1-5.
People prefer to not talk about their salary in public. Women prefer to not divulge their age, and polite men do not even ask. In many cases, Americans will not discuss in public to which faith community they belong, much less the particular beliefs they hold with regard to that community.
And with the growing incidence of identity theft, we have become even more alert to our potential vulnerability if information about us falls into the wrong hands.
It is ironic then that one activity in which many of us engage as the quintessential symbol of patriotism and our identity as proud Americans and Alabamians is actually part of a system by which our personal information is easily compromised.
Voting is an activity that we often think is subject to great deference to privacy. However, the privacy of one’s personal information that is used to determine eligibility to vote is lacking basic protection in Alabama.
In Alabama, for most us voters, our personal information is for sale. Name. Address. Date of birth. Place of birth. Gender. Race. Phone number. And election officials are not even waiting for the highest bidder (although the price for purchasing voter’s data can be quite expensive).
The general public has complete access to our demographic information, with the exceptions of the last four digits of our social security number and our driver’s license number, which are protected under state and federal laws. But the remaining information is readily available for anyone willing to ante up the asking price.
There are exceptions, though. Some voters’ personal information is protected:
Personal information is protected if a voter is or has been a victim of domestic violence – or a voter has legal custody of a minor who has been a victim of domestic violence.
Personal information is also protected if a domestic violence order is or has been issued by a judge or magistrate to restrain access to the registered voter or a minor who is in the legal custody of the registered voter.
And, lastly, personal information is protected if the voter is a federal or state prosecutor; federal, state, probate, or municipal judge; legislator; or law enforcement officer.
The exceptions for people who fall into these categories are important and serve a compelling public interest. However, voters who do not fall into one or more of these categories may have a valid and compelling reason for wanting their personal information protected as well.
Given that stalking, identity theft, and other forms of victimization are facilitated by knowing the whereabouts of individuals or other personal information, the statewide voter registration database provides a wealth of information for targeting prospective victims.
The statewide voter list easily translates into valuable intelligence for someone seeking a preferred target – whether the target is a hapless innocent chosen at random for identity theft or a woman who may be attempting to evade a stalker or abuser.
In a society that values one’s privacy, participating in our democratic system is to an incredible degree not private, thus creating a disincentive to participation for those people who want — or need — to secure their privacy. During my years of service in the Elections Division at the Secretary of State’s office, I answered many calls from victimized women – or advocates who help victimized women – concerned for their safety if they registered to vote and their residential address became subject to sell.
While there are many legitimate uses for a voter’s personal information, such as voter outreach and education by political parties, candidates, and civic groups, voters should have the right to control whether their information can be used for purposes other than administering voter registration and elections.
Some voters may never think twice or feel a need to care about where the information they place on a voter registration application may land. They may even like being accessible to receive brochures and other materials from candidates and political committees seeking to sway their vote and political party allegiance.
For other voters, though, this lack of control can lead to self-imposed disenfranchisement. This type of disenfranchisement is not effectuated by literacy tests, or poll taxes, or disqualifying felony status, but by the simple desire — or necessity — of someone to maintain an existence that is not publicized.
With the Federal Communications Commission’s and the Alabama Public Service Commission’s “do not call” registries, we have been able to gain some control over our phone lines and protect ourselves from invasion in the privacy through our phone lines (although, as those pushing so-called “car warranties” show us, our phones are still vulnerable to ne’er-do-wells). Federal law has also provided “opt-out” tools that give us the right to tell businesses to not share our personal information with other businesses.
These types of protections should be extended to the information that is contained in our voter registration file. We, as voters, should be able to tell election officials to not release our personal information if we prefer to keep the data private. The Alabama Legislature should afford all of us this option.
Election officials should have the right to use our personal information only for the purposes of determining our eligibility to vote. No one else should have a claim on that information without our permission, nor should it be available for the convenience of those who wish to catalog or study or manipulate or exploit us – unless we choose to allow them into our personal lives.
This was a question that was posed to me recently by a supporter from Birmingham: How many elections have you worked on?
Using records from the Secretary of State’s web site, I was able to count at least 378 days on which an election was held, and I was part of the teams that participated in administering those elections.
The actual number of elections on which I worked is higher though, because that number (378) are distinct days on which elections were conducted. On many of those days, there were multiple elections being conducted on the same date. For example:
In 1999, when Alabamians were presented with a referendum on a proposed constitutional amendment that would have permitted a state lottery, the City of Montgomery conducted a regularly-scheduled municipal election.
In the same years as presidential elections, the vast majority of municipal elections have been held on the fourth Tuesday in August. (That will change in the near future, as most municipal elections will be moved out of the presidential election year beginning in 2023).
Sometimes, special elections for multiple legislative seats have been held on the same day. In 2021, special general elections were held on the same day for Alabama Senate District 14 and Alabama House of Representatives District 73.
Some municipalities do not hold their elections on the fourth Tuesday of a presidential year, but they still hold them on the same day as another municipality. In 2021, the Cities of Birmingham and Mobile held their regular municipal elections and their runoff elections on the same day for each respective election.
Additionally, the Secretary of State’s records do not always include information about special elections at the county or municipal level, although that office provides support for those elections when asked. I worked on quite a number of those special elections. For example:
This coming week, on January 11th, Dale County will conduct a special school tax election for which I helped them prepare.
On November 16, 2021, St. Clair County conducted a special school tax election which I assisted them with.
I was asked in a round about way my position on how we Alabamians can ensure our elections have integrity.
My recommendation for ensuring election integrity is that the Legislature should mandate post-election procedural audits so that the public knows that election administrators have conducted their election according to state and federal laws and regulations.
I have long said during my near-25-year career in the Secretary of State’s office that our elections can have integrity only if the election administrators faithfully comply with the laws and regulations that govern our elections.
If members of the public believe that election officials themselves are doing the wrong thing, even if unintentionally, those people will lose faith in elections.
In calling for these procedural audits, I’m in no way alleging that Alabama’s election administrators have performed in any way other than professionally and honorably. My experience over many years with probate judges, absentee election managers (who are predominantly circuit clerks), sheriffs, members of the boards of registrars, and city and town clerks, is that they perform their duties with integrity and are committed to serving their voters well.
However, it is not necessarily enough to speak of professionalism, honor, integrity, and commitment. Some Alabamians seem to have a kinship with Missourians, who, a long time ago, adopted as their state motto “Show Me”!
From what I have seen, the election administrators I have worked with for over 24 years have always stood ready to show their constituents what they do. They take their responsibilities as election officials seriously and perform their duties with pride.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Alabama is one of six states that do not require any kind of post-election audit. Our legislature should remedy that situation.
In 2021, to its credit, the Alabama Legislature did pass legislation to require a pilot program for a post-election audit in the 2022 general election. That pilot will involve three counties. We, including members of the Legislature, can and should learn from this pilot program.
Election administrators are not the only people, though, that can help us have faith and confidence in our elections. All of us, as voters in our Great State of Alabama, have a role in ensuring election integrity.
While we may not all be official poll watchers representing a candidate or a political party, we all see what happens at our polling place. If you see something that raises your eyebrow (especially if it raises both eyebrows!), never hesitate to talk to your probate judge (in county-run elections), your city or town clerk (in municipal elections), or the Secretary of State or Attorney General about it.
Whoever you contact can assess whether what you saw was consistent with election laws and regulations. If what you saw is consistent with election laws and regulations, perhaps they can set your mind at ease. But, if what you saw is not consistent with election laws and regulations, they can advise you of what additional steps, if any, are needed to begin an investigation.
As law enforcement often advises the public, if you see something, say something. And do so promptly, especially on Election Day, so that the situation can be addressed as quickly as possible.
We must first define our goals and then unite our efforts.
[I wrote this essay in 2004 and it was originally published by The Birmingham News on October 24, 2004.]
For years, we have heard repeatedly that each and every vote makes a difference. We have heard that one vote – my vote, your vote – can be the one that decides the next election.
Agents of get-out-the-vote groups are quick with examples of how one vote has made all the difference in the world.
It is true that your vote – and my vote – is important. But I think that Alabamians – especially those Alabamians who choose not to vote – know that it is disingenuous to suggest that each of their votes could be the one that decides any particular election.
It is true that in some places, the vote of one person is the deciding factor in an election. Indeed, in Alabama, in 1992, one vote was the margin of victory in three separate elections.
A city council runoff in Selma showed a final vote of 408-407.
A town council election in Trinity was decided 128-127.
And in the Democratic Party primary for a Madison County commission race, the final tally was 1,815-1,814.
More recently, we have seen some elections where any single person’s vote could have altered the outcome. Take this year’s municipal elections.
In Carbon Hill, the final total in a council race was 35-35. (Under state law, the mayor and city council broke the tie.)
And in Guntersville, the final tally in that city’s mayoral contest was 1,242-1,241. (A contest of that election is pending.)
So it’s true that in some instances, one vote can literally make all the difference.
But these examples are rarities, anomalies, that political junkies love to discuss. And further, these are from elections where voter turnout is very small, relatively speaking. And when you have a low number of voters, you increase the likelihood of one vote being a deciding factor.
If we look at elections for large jurisdictions, the chance of one vote making any literal difference in the outcome is infinitesimal. Take a statewide race for governor. Or the national contest for president. The likelihood that one voter will be able to swing the results is fodder for a quaint political daydream worthy of Walter Mitty.
The truth be told, one vote does make a difference, but it’s power is not in terms of being able to swing an election by itself. We do not have “elections of one”.
The power of democracy, by definition, does not rest with any one particular person. “Democracy” refers to “government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives”.
Even if we consider ourselves more appropriately a constitutional republic, we would believe we live in “a political order in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who are entitled to vote for officers and representatives responsible to them”.
The idea, of course, is that in a representative government we citizens come together and decide who will represent us. It’s a group project, not a responsibility that any one of us shoulders alone.
We have a responsibility to persuade others to agree with us if we wish to move the levers of government. Or at least we should find like-minded people and join forces.
That’s the fundamental dynamic of an American election: convincing people that your agenda or your candidate is the right one for your city, your county, your state, your nation.
Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.
Her commentary speaks to the power of individuals to seek change when they have grabbed onto an idea. Grabbing onto the idea is only the first step, though. Those individuals must then become advocates for their idea – or in the case of elections, their candidate.
They must take their candidate to their community, be it nation, state, or city. They must solicit support from friends, family, neighbors and other citizens. They must build a coalition of voters committed to the candidate’s election.
The electoral process will reward them with success only if they can garner agreement from a majority – or at least a plurality – of voters.
In Alabama and America, the foundation of government is comprised of the people: “We, the people”.
The preamble to the U.S. Constitution makes clear the type of system for which we strive, for which the founding colonists laid down their lives. The bedrock on which America’s great experiment in democracy rests is the notion of government based on the shared goals and concerted effort. Not the power of “one”.
To speak of the power of one person’s vote in swaying an election one way or another is putting the proverbial cart before the horse. We must first define our goals and then unite our efforts.
Through this process, we develop the strategy to ensure that our candidates or issues win the day. And the more successful we are in developing that strategy, the less important it will be to consider whether any one person’s vote can empower – or frustrate – our efforts.
I have added to this site a list of articles, editorials, an academic paper, and other pieces that I have written regarding election law and election administration. You can find the list by scrolling down on the right-hand side of this page.