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FIVE THINGS TO KNOW about city elections as qualifying ends

Polling place at City Meeting Center

A sign at the Anniston City Meeting Center during elections in 2014.

Anniston and some nearby cities are in for a busy few weeks of campaigning, after municipal election qualifying closed Tuesday with dozens of candidates in the running. 

Six people are seeking the position of Anniston mayor, and there are two- or three-way races for all seats on the Anniston City Council. In some smaller towns, many incumbents appear headed to re-election for lack of opposition. 

With qualifying closed, candidates begin a month-long sprint toward city council and school board elections. City elections were last held four years ago. Here's a look at some of the details voters tend to forget, as well as details that are new this year. 

This vote is held in August, not November. If you're looking forward to checking your favorite city candidate's name at the same time you vote for Biden or Trump, think again. City elections run on a different schedule than the presidential election, and they come at you fast. The vote will be held Aug. 25, with a runoff in October for the top two vote-getters in any race where no candidate gets a majority.

You can vote absentee because of COVID-19, just like in the Senate runoff. In the U.S. Senate runoff election held earlier this month, state officials allowed voters to cast absentee ballots, citing health concerns, if they're concerned about contracting COVID-19 at the polling place.

Anniston city clerk Skyler Bass confirmed Tuesday that the same rule will be in place for the state's city elections in August. 

“What we found was that more and more citizens were telling us they'd have difficulty getting to the voting booth,” said Greg Cochran, director of the Alabama League of Municipalities, which has pushed for absentee voting in city elections this year. 

Cochran said the group also considered asking for elections to be postponed, but in May and June, when the virus was less widespread, asking for postponement seemed premature. 

Absentee voting appears to be a popular option. A poll released Tuesday by Auburn University Montgomery shows that 73 percent of Alabamians want alternatives to in-person, election-day voting. Some participants in that poll said they wanted curbside or early voting — which aren't allowed in Alabama — but absentee voting was the most popular option, according to David Hughes, the AUM political science professor who conducted the poll.

Absentee ballots have been at issue in at least one court challenge to election results in Anniston, but Hughes said actual election fraud is rare. 

“It really is uncommon,” he said. “The most common type of misuse of an absentee ballot is a ballot cast by a spouse for a voter who has died.”

You get your absentee ballot from the city clerk. City elections are run largely by the cities, which means that if you need to get an absentee ballot you'll need to check with the city clerk in your town. Bass, the Anniston city clerk, said the deadline to request an absentee ballot is Aug. 20

Campaigning will be different because of coronavirus. City elections are perhaps the last bastion of old-school, hand-shaking politics, with much of the campaigning done in person. It's hard to predict how that will work in the year of COVID-19. 

"It really is old-fashioned retail politics," Hughes said. "You can still campaign in person, but I'm not sure candidates will be going to the Kiwanis or Rotary club, or speaking at churches." 

The Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce hosts candidate forums in many local political races. Chamber director Linda Hearn said Tuesday that the chamber is in talks with cities about how to conduct forums this year.

Your polling place may be different than the place you vote in most elections. Some voting districts in municipal elections are different than they are in state or federal elections, which means you might vote at a different location in August, Bass and Cochran said. 

Cochran said that in many of the state's cities there's also concern about finding enough poll workers to operate those sites, due to coronavirus.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.