Election officials already preparing for 2022; Gadsden municipal vote could be contentious

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Election 2022 is less than a year away, and Etowah County election officials already have begun preparing.

For now, Probate Judge Scott Hassell and Circuit Clerk Cassandra Johnson are expecting this election to be more conventional than the last vote.

However, in addition to a large slate of state and local races in Etowah County, it is municipal election year for the City of Gadsden. And if the events of this past year are any indication, those races may look like none seen before, and they will be closely watched by people beyond the city limits.

Alabama’s party primaries are May 24, and Hassell said work is underway to check on polling places to make sure they will still be available.

Last year COVID-19 and construction work shifted voters away from Wallace Hall, because of community college system restrictions on access to its buildings, and East Gadsden Community Center because the new facility was not yet open. Hassell said the expectation is that it will open next year.

Hassell said voters can do their part to prepare for the 2022 vote. If there’s been any change in address, or if there is any question about voting eligibility, he encouraged people to check with the Etowah County Board of Registrars to ensure they are registered property at their current address.

He urged all voters to check the voter’s list when it is published prior to the election, and said anyone 18 or older who has not registered should register.

Absentee voting was drastically different last year, when COVID worries were accepted as a reason for casting an absentee ballot. The change made absentee balloting available for virtually any voter who wanted to use it.

Many people did — enough so that lines would form at times that stretched out the door and down the sidewalk at the judicial building (with required social distancing).

Johnson expects the absentee process to be more routine this year, now that people have had the opportunity to get the COVID-19 vaccine and case numbers have dropped. She said she hopes the county can get additional help from the secretary of state’s office, as it did last year, to make the process run smoothly.

Hassell said the county will continue to use student poll workers — something that’s been a great help in the last two elections. Students have been able to assist the more experienced volunteers with new technologies in use in the votes.

Traditionally, Hassell said, presidential elections bring the biggest turnout at the polls, but he noted that the turnout hasn’t dropped greatly in Etowah County during midterm votes.

Hassell said this year will be the last year the the probate judge’s office takes financial reports from the City of Gadsden’s municipal candidates. Those reports will go to the secretary of state’s office in the future.

Gadsden’s city election is slated for Aug. 23. Qualifying is scheduled for June 14-28 for mayor, council and school board candidates.

It marks the second election for city school board members, but it is the council races that are likely to be the hot topic.

Since last November, controversy about a proposal to construct a rendering plant at the airport has engulfed the city. Opponents of the plant have made clear their intent to work for changes in city government, beginning with the people holding city offices.

Contact Gadsden Times reporter Donna Thornton at 256-393-3284 or donna.thornton@gadsdentimes.com.

This article originally appeared on The Gadsden Times: Election 2022: Mid-term vote, Gadsden municipal races up this year