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Federal judge loosens absentee rules for vulnerable voters, AG Marshall says Alabama will appeal decision

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A federal judge says older Alabama voters at risk for contracting COVID-19 shouldn’t have to comply with all the state’s requirements for casting absentee ballots in November. Attorney General Steve Marshall said that the State of Alabama will appeal the ruling.

U.S. District Judge Abdul K. Kallon ruled Wednesday that being forced to follow some provisions could wrongly endanger their lives. The decision came in a lawsuit filed on behalf of voters with health problems.

The lawsuit was filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Alabama, and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program.

Kallon ruled that voters 65 and older who are more susceptible to the coronavirus shouldn’t be required to have a notary or two witnesses sign ballot affidavits or to submit a copy of a photo identification. And he says counties should be allowed to conduct “curbside voting” for those who need it.

 “This decision is a huge win for Alabama voters, especially voters of color and voters with disabilities,” said Deuel Ross, senior counsel at LDF. “Given COVID-19, Alabama’s draconian voting rules needlessly place the health and voting rights of Alabamians in danger. No one should be forced to risk their safety to exercise their constitutional right. State and local election officials have a responsibility to ensure that voting is easy and accessible for everyone in the pandemic.” 

“Today’s decision provides crucial relief in Alabama’s absentee voting process, allows for curbside voting in counties that wish to provide it, and ultimately will create a better public health situation in Alabama as it conducts a historic election,” said Caren Short, senior staff attorney for the SPLC. “We’re deeply hopeful that the secretary of state and county election officials will accept the court’s ruling and begin educating Alabama voters on how they can vote safely and easily for the general election.”

“This ruling recognizes the hardships these laws place on Black Alabamians and those at particular risk for COVID-19. This decision will help to ease those burdens in the midst of this deadly pandemic,” said Davin Rosborough, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall issued the following statement on the ruling.

“Once again, a federal district court has sided with those making unsupported claims that Alabama’s absentee voter requirements of a photo ID and witness signatures place voters at risk from COVID-19,” said Attorney General Marshall.  “In addition to the fact that voters have nearly two months to obtain and fill out an absentee ballot application  — not to mention every eligible voter can choose to vote absentee — opponents presented no evidence that voting absentee poses any appreciable risk to voters’ safety or that any Alabama voters were unable to cast their absentee ballots in the July 14 runoff elections because of the challenged provisions. 

“The U.S. Supreme Court has explained, in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, that the right to vote includes the right to vote in an election where ‘safeguards exist to deter [and] detect fraud [and] to confirm the identity of voters.’ Alabama’s long-standing requirements that absentee voters submit a copy of their ID when obtaining a ballot and secure two witness signatures on the envelope in which they return their ballot advance the State’s important interest in fair elections.  And these requirements are easy to safely satisfy, even during the pandemic.  Moreover, the Secretary of State’s judgment that curbside voting cannot currently be offered in accordance with State law should not be second-guessed just weeks before election day.

“Back in June, the district court in this case enjoined these important protections for the primary runoff.  But the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in, staying that injunction and allowing the State to enforce its laws.  We will ask the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and, if necessary, the Supreme Court, to do the same again. 

“Voting began weeks ago.  And every Alabama voter is entitled to vote under the same laws, not new ones written by a federal court in the middle of voting.”

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall

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