Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill has extended the ability of voters to vote absentee if they’re concerned about COVID-19 through the Nov. 3 general election.
Merrill’s decision puts to rest questions as to whether the emergency measure, enacted prior to the Republican Runoff last Tuesday, would be extended to cover other upcoming municipal elections on August 25 and the general election on November 3.
Coronavirus is far from under control in Alabama, where over the last week the state has seen continued record-breaking new daily cases and hospitalizations.
“It was unforeseen that the Governor’s original state of emergency would be extended and that the coronavirus pandemic would continue in Alabama, thus necessitating the need for an emergency absentee rule for the General Election on November 3, 2020,” reads the certification of emergency rules signed by Merrill on Friday.
Merrill in a press release Monday announced the decision to extend the emergency measure.
“Amid coronavirus concerns, it is important to remember that Alabamians who are concerned about contracting or spreading an illness have the opportunity to avoid the polls on Election Day by casting an absentee ballot,” Merrill said.
Voters can also call the Secretary of State’s Office at 334-242-7210 to request an absentee ballot application.
Alabama voters will still have to follow witness, notary and photo ID requirements for absentee ballots, however, after the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month blocked a federal district judge’s order that would have eased burdens on state voters amid surging coronavirus cases.
U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon on June 15 approved, in part, a preliminary injunction filed by the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund Inc., the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program.
Those groups sued Gov. Kay Ivey and Merrill and seek to implement curbside voting for at-risk citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic. Plaintiffs also asked the court to remove requirements for certain voter IDs and that witnesses sign absentee ballot requests.
Anyone wishing to vote by absentee ballot may check the box on an absentee ballot request for that reads “I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls. [ID REQUIRED]”
“As COVID-19 infections rise, Secretary Merrill’s emergency order is a huge victory for Alabama voters who do not wish to risk their health at the polls this year,” said Caren Short, senior staff attorney for the SPLC, in a statement Monday. “Still in place, however, are a curbside voting ban and absentee ballot requirements that demand voters violate social distancing with zero benefit to the integrity of elections. We will continue toward trial to ensure that no eligible Alabama voter has to choose between protecting their health and health of their families and exercising their fundamental right to vote.”
“With the continued rise of COVID-19 cases in Alabama, we are relieved that the vast majority of voters will have the opportunity to vote by absentee ballot,” said Bill Van der Pol, senior trial counsel at ADAP. “However, we remain concerned for those with disabilities who will have significantly more difficulty meeting the witness and photo requirements that the state continues to require. We look forward to addressing these issues in trial.”
The deadline to register to vote in the Aug. 25 municipal elections is Monday, Aug. 10, and the deadline to submit an absentee ballot application is Thursday, Aug. 20, and the deadline to hand-deliver an absentee ballot is the close of business Monday, Aug. 24.
If an absentee ballot is returned by mail, it must be postmarked by Aug. 24 and received by noon on Aug. 25. If necessary, runoff elections will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 6.
The voter registration deadline for the November general election is Oct. 19, and the last day to apply for an absentee ballot for the general election is Oct. 29. The last day to hand-delivery or postmark an absentee ballot is Nov. 2.