2020 election

Federal Court Refuses to Block Curbside Voting or Loosening of ID Rules on Absentee Ballots in July 14 Runoff

A federal appellate court has refused to allow Alabama’s secretary of state to stand in the way of curbside voting in the July 14 runoff and other measures designed to ease voting for people wary of the coronavirus.

The Thursday ruling came in a lawsuit making its way through the courts. A federal judge previously allowed local voting officials to offer curbside voting at polling places if they choose to do so. He also said voting officials in Jefferson, Mobile and Lee counties ­­could waive requirements that people voting by absentee ballot mail in a copy of an ID card with a photo, as well as have their ballots witnessed and notarized.

If sidestepping those requirements, the voter must send in a statement saying they suffer from a condition that could put them at higher risk if they contract COVID-19.

The court ruled that the “burdens imposed by the challenged election laws on voters at high risk of severe complications or death from COVID-19 are not justified by the state’s interests in enforcing the laws.”

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill has appealed that ruling and asked the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to issue a stay of execution prohibiting the judge’s order from being carried out. It was that request that the 11th Circuit Court denied Thursday.

“The 11th Circuit’s decision means hundreds of thousands of Alabama voters will be able to safely exercise their constitutional right to vote,” NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Senior Counsel Natasha Merle said in a statement. “The witness signature and photo ID requirements were obstacles that would have unnecessarily exposed people to COVID-19. We also hope to see local officials offering curbside voting in July and beyond.”

Merrill told the Associated Press on Thursday that, while the request for a stay had been denied, he still is asking the appellate court to overturn the ruling that allows the one-time loosening of restrictions.

“We are committed to preserving the integrity and credibility of the electoral process and protecting the opportunity for every eligible Alabama voter to participate in our elections in an unobstructed way,” Merrill said in a statement.

Earlier this year, Gov. Kay Ivey moved the runoff from March 31 to July 14 in an attempt to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. Merrill also issued an emergency order allowing anyone who believed it was impossible or unreasonable to vote at their polling places to vote by absentee ballot instead.