Secretary of State John Merrill and Gov. Kay Ivey are considering delaying Alabama’s March 31 primary runoff election amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Merrill said on Twitter Sunday evening that he has asked Attorney General Steve Marshall for an AG’s opinion about allowing Ivey to postpone the runoff to a date to be determined in the future.
The headline race in the runoff election March 31 is the GOP runoff between former Sen. Jeff Sessions and former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, who are vying to be the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate.
If Merrill, Marshall and Ivey agree on the decision, Alabama would join a handful of other states that have postponed their elections amid the surge in cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged against gatherings of 50 or more people across the country as officials fear the number of cases will explode in the coming days.
https://t.co/Tf1xwwvMIA In this time of uncertainty and unrest due to the concerns of the coronavirus, we have asked Attorney General Steve Marshall for an opinion allowing Governor Kay Ivey to postpone the election runoff scheduled for March 31 to a date to be determined.
— John Merrill (@JohnHMerrill) March 16, 2020
Last week, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency and Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency.
Merrill has asked if, under the emergency powers granted to the governor under Section 31-9-1 et seq. Ala. Code, the governor has the authority to postpone the election.
“In postponing the election until the threat of the Coronavirus is eliminated, Alabamians will be able to participate in the electoral process in a safe and healthy environment, as they have done in the past,” Merrill said in a statement.
The number of coronavirus cases in the United States has surged past 3,000 in the last 24 hours. In Alabama, the number of cases nearly doubled from 12 Sunday morning to 22 Sunday evening. Experts fear the situation could worsen as the spread of the disease is likely exponential in nature.
Currently, neither the Code of Alabama nor the Constitution of the State of Alabama allow for the suspension, delay, or postponement of an election once the date has been set.
Merrill’s office said this is why, in 2019, his office asked the Legislature to give the governor the explicit power to be able to take prescribed action through means that would be codified.
That attempt was unsuccessful but in the 2020 Legislative Session, Merrill’s office has asked Sen. Donnie Chesteen and Rep. David Standridge to introduce this legislation once again for consideration.
“The health and well-being of the people of this state are of paramount importance. In order to effectively practice social distancing, as recommended by the President of the United States, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the Alabama Department of Public Health, etc., the March 31 Runoff Election must be postponed,” Merrill said.
Because absentee ballots have not yet gone out, votes in the runoff election would not be affected. Merrill said earlier this week, after a public debate on Twitter with AL.com columnist Kyle Whitmire, that those who have fears about coronavirus could request absentee ballots.