If you’re listed as an “Inactive Voter” in Alabama, don’t panic! You’re not alone. In 2017, AL-05 Congressman Mo Brooks was a candidate for Senate in the Republican special election primary. Presumably, he had also remembered to keep his voter registration current. Nevertheless, he was listed as an “inactive voter” and required to “re-identify” himself at the polling place before casting his ballot.
Here, we provide answers to some frequently asked questions about Alabama’s “inactive voter” policies and procedures. Some of the content in the answer sections is duplicated, but we wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to quickly access the information they need without pouring over every word of the article.
I’m listed as inactive. Can I still vote in the primary?
Yes, but it can be complicated, and you may have to file a provisional ballot. It’s important to find out ASAP if you’re on the inactive voter list so you’re ready on March 3. Go to AlabamaVotes to check your registration status and polling place.
At the Alabama Votes Web page, it’s easy to tell if you’re listed as “active” or “inactive”
It’s too late now to update your registration online before the primary, but you can do it at the polls on election day by filling out a Voter Re-Identification form.
- I’m listed as inactive but I haven’t moved: No problem! Just go to your polling place and complete a re-identification form.
- I’m listed as inactive and I have moved but I’m still at the same voting precinct: This is easy. Just go to your polling place, complete a re-identification form, and vote a regular ballot.
- I’m listed as inactive. I’ve moved and supposed to vote at a different precinct now. This is why you want to check in advance! You will not be able to vote at your previous location if you have moved to a new voting precinct. If you go to the old precinct, the poll worker can look up your new address and tell you where to go to vote. It’s in their “E-Poll Book.” Remind them of that if necessary.Even better, you should call your county’s Board of Registrars and get the location of your new polling place. On March 3, go to the new polling place, explain that you’re on the “inactive voter” list and have moved to this new precinct. They will have you fill out the voter re-identification form and give you a provisional ballot. If all of your information is correct and you fill out both forms completely, your provisional ballot will be counted. It’s worth the effort in a close election. Do it!!
Please don’t berate the poll workers. They don’t know why you’re on the inactive list. They put in tremendously long hours for low pay and we couldn’t run elections without them!
Why do I have to vote a provisional ballot even though I completed the re-identification form? Do provisional ballots really even get counted?
To be clear, you only have to complete a provisional ballot if you have moved to a different voting district. If you have NOT moved or you’ve moved and still vote in the same precinct, you should be able to vote a regular ballot.
You can’t just show up at the new polling place (where you aren’t on the voter rolls yet), fill out an update form, and get a regular ballot. That would be nice, but it’s not the system we have. Instead, tell the poll workers that you’re registered, but you’re on the inactive list and you’ve moved to this district. Tell them you need to fill out a voter re-identification form and would like a provisional ballot.
If you have any problems, call your county Board of Registrars and ask for assistance. Poll workers aren’t perfect; they sometimes get things wrong. Pro tip: Look up the Board of Registrar’s phone number in advance.
Provisional ballots do get counted if it’s determined that the voter was eligible to vote in that precinct in the election. That’s why you need to take your time and fill out every part of the form and the ballot. Don’t forget your signature! Provisional ballots are sometimes thrown out because they’re incomplete. The poll workers are busy; they may not have time to check your work.
Will the poll workers automatically give me the form I need to “reactivate” my status?
They should, but the more you know, the better.
Unfortunately, it depends on who trained them, what they were told, and how well they understood it. Seriously, a huge flaw in this system is subjectivity. How you’re treated from county to county and even from precinct to precinct depends on how the Probate Judge’s office conducts poll worker training and how the individual poll workers run the polling place.
The more you know about the process as a voter, the more power you have.
- I know I’m on the inactive voter list because I checked my registration status in advance: Tell the poll workers when you give them your name and show your ID. Ask them for a Voter Re-Identification form.
- I didn’t know I’m on the inactive voter list until I got to the polling place: The poll workers can’t tell you why you’re on the list. They don’t have that information. Please don’t berate them; they put in tremendously long hours for low pay and we couldn’t run elections without them! Just ask them for a Voter Re-Identification form if you’re still in the district. If you have moved out of district, ask them to help you find out where to go to vote a provisional ballot. Remind them that they can look up your new polling location using their “E-Poll book.”
- I need to complete the Voter Re-Identification form, but the poll worker says they’re out of forms. In previous elections, we’ve heard that some precincts have received very few re-identification forms – just 25 copies in some cases! – and the form isn’t available for download from state web sites. Cross your fingers, campers. At some precincts, there may be volunteers working “help tables” to assist inactive voters. At others, you’re on your own.
I moved to a new county and went to my new polling place. Why wouldn’t they let me vote?
In Alabama, voter rolls are maintained county-by-county. If you have moved within the same county, you can go the provisional ballot route.
However, if you registered in Montevallo and voted there as a student, then moved to Mobile after graduation, that doesn’t mean you can automatically vote a provisional ballot in Mobile. When you move to a new county, you must update your address either at the AlabamaVotes Web site or with the new county Board of Registrars directly.
You can complete the voter re-identification form at your new voting precinct if you’ve moved to a different county. The Board of Registrars will update your registration and you can vote in the next election.
Why am I on the inactive voter list anyway?
The poll workers don’t know and can’t look it up for you. They can only tell you that you are on the list. Please don’t berate them; they put in tremendously long hours for low pay and we couldn’t run elections without them!
Some possible reasons include:
- You moved and didn’t update your voter information.
- You failed to respond to a postcard asking you to confirm your address and registration information.
- Your notification postcard got lost in the mail or the forwarding failed.
- The voter database is wrong.
Obviously, there are flaws in the system – just ask Congressman Brooks! In fact, there are a number of weaknesses in the system Alabama designed.
Two-postcard verification process: The state sends every registered voter a non-forwardable postcard that asks the voter to review the information and retain the card if the information is correct. If there are errors, voters can update the information online or at their local voter registrar. If the voter is no longer at that address, the person who received the card is supposed to mark it “Return to Sender” and mail it to the county board of registrars. Next, forwardable postcards are mailed to voters whose cards were returned. Those voters need to either update their registration online or at the local board of registrars. If they don’t, they’re put on the inactive voter list.
The state will purge all “inactive” voters who fail to vote in the next two federal elections.
You see the flaws here, right?
- What if the first postcard doesn’t get delivered?
- What if the person who receives the first postcard throws it away instead of marking it return to sender and mailing it back?
- What if the forwarding order is expired and the second postcard doesn’t get forwarded?
- What if the forwarded postcard is mis-delivered?
- What if you do everything right, but get put on the list anyway?
How Can I Verify My Voter Registration Status?
Check your registration status online at the AlabamaVotes Web site maintained by the SOS office. Pro tip: don’t wait until election day. In 2016, the Web site crashed the day of the primary, and voters couldn’t look up their polling place locations online. SOS Merrill mocked them for “waiting until the last minute.”
In fact, everyone should check their registration status ASAP.
- If you’re listed as inactive and haven’t moved, go to your regular polling place, update your info, and all is well.
- If you’re listed as inactive and have moved, check and see if you’ve changed voting districts, find out your new polling place, and update your registration information there. NOTE: if you’ve moved to a different county, you can update your information, but not vote a provisional ballot.
- If you’re listed as active and haven’t moved, check your polling location anyway. Sometimes, counties move polling places because of traffic or location issues. Don’t waste time going to the wrong place.
On election days, county party HQs and candidate headquarters are super busy, as are Board of Registrar offices, and poll workers. The last thing you want to do is stand in line at your old polling place and be told you’re inactive and, based on your new address, you have to drive to another polling location, stand in line again, and update your information.
It’s too late now to update your registration information in advance of the March 3 primary, but you do still have time to make sure you’re going to the right place to vote and have the information you need to “re-verify” your registration.
Why is the process so darn difficult?
In 2018, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill announced that more than 300,000 registered voters had been placed on the “inactive voter” list and were in danger of being dropped from voting rolls entirely.
The reason for this is due in part to the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) – also known as the “Motor Voter” law. That’s what state lawmakers will tell you. However, when they wrote the voting laws, the State of Alabama took the strictest view possible of the NVRAs provisions for removing voters. Then they pushed it to the limit. As a result, many qualified voters in the March 3 primary may be told that they’re on the “inactive voter” list.
The state says they’re following federal law. And they are, but they’re making the process as difficult as possible. So much so that some voting rights advocates refer to it as a “voter suppression tactic.” You can read more about the NVRA requirements.
Remember: this is not the fault of the poll workers or the people who work in the voter registrars offices. They’re playing the hand the legislature has dealt them. Save your ire for your elected officials.
Right now, it’s the system we have to live with and vote under. We at LIA hope that this information makes your voting process smoother and trouble-free.
Any more questions? Ask them in the comments and we’ll try to get the answers for you and update the post content to reflect it.