U.S. Supreme Court blocks court order that relaxed Alabama absentee voter requirements due to pandemic

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall announced the application for a stay in a court order that loosened some absentee voter restrictions, was granted Thursday evening by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The vote was 5-4. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan opposed the decision. None of the justices issued statement regarding the decision.

Marshall believes the court made the right decision.

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court acted quickly to grant the State’s emergency stay request so that Alabama’s absentee voting laws remains in effect for the upcoming July 14, 2020 run-off election,” said Attorney General Marshall. “Alabama is again able to enforce laws that help ensure the fairness and integrity of our elections.”

The state appealed to the Supreme Court after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to stay a judge’s order that loosened absentee ballot requirements in Jefferson, Mobile and Lee counties for the upcoming Republican Senate primary runoff.

The June 15 injunction, issued by U.S. District Judge Abdul K. Kallon, blocked election personnel in the three counties from enforcing the ID requirement for voters who are disabled or 65 or older. The judge also eliminated the notary or witness requirement for voters who submit a sworn statement that they are at heightened medical risk. The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by several voters who are older or have health risks and are concerned about COVID-19 exposure.

Kallon’s ruling also allowed county election officials the option to offer curbside voting at in-person polling locations in the July 14 runoff.

A couple of the organizations representing plaintiffs in People First of Alabama v. Merrill released statements expressing disappointment in the decision.

“We are deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court‘s stay. Unfortunately, this means that Alabama voters who are at greater risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 will be required to risk their health and violate CDC recommendations in order to vote on July 14. This is occurring at a time when COVID-19 infections are soaring in Alabama and nationwide. Nonetheless, the litigation will continue and we intend to seek relief for our clients and other voters in time for November.”

Deuel Ross, Senior Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. 

“While we are deeply disappointed with today’s ruling, we look forward to presenting our clients’ case at trial later this summer. Our goal is simple though unfortunately at odds with Alabama officials. We want to ensure that during the COVID-19 pandemic, Alabama voters will not be forced to choose between exercising their fundamental right to vote and protecting their health or the health of a loved one.”

Caren Short, Senior Staff Attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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