Alabama seeks legal opinion on delaying March 31 runoff election

Published 9:49 pm Sunday, March 15, 2020

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said Sunday he is seeking an emergency legal opinion from the state attorney general about the possibility of postponing the March 31 primary runoff because of the new coronavirus.

Alabama primary voters are currently set to go to the polls on March 31 for the Republican primary runoff in the U.S. Senate race between Jeff Sessions and Tommy Tuberville.

However, public health officials are recommending people avoid large public gatherings.

Merrill said he will ask if the governor has the emergency powers to postpone the runoff. “If it is approved, we will make a recommendation to the governor,” Merrill said Sunday night.

Georgia and Louisiana have postponed upcoming primary elections because of the threat of the new coronavirus.

Alabama now has 22 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Sunday night, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. Schools, courts and churches cancelled activities as public health officials urged people to practice social distancing to slow the spread of the virus.

The Alabama Supreme Court on Saturday said that in-person proceedings in all state and local courts in Alabama would be suspended until April 16.

There would be exceptions for bond hearings, protection hearings, emergency child custody hearings, trials already in progress and other matters. Proceedings out of the courthouse, such as depositions and mediations, should continue when possible, court officials said.

Alabama reported its first confirmed case of the virus on Friday, although public health officials cautioned that virus was already circulating in the state. Twelve of the 22 confirmed cases in the state are in Jefferson County, according to the Department of Public Health.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough.

For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. Authorities have recommended measures to slow the spread of the virus to try to avoid overwhelming the health system.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced Friday that public schools would close beginning March 19, with a tentative reopening day of April 6. Some school officials announced that they would go ahead and close beginning Monday.

Ivey on Friday declared a state of emergency.

“Folks, let’s take a common-sense approach and remember calm and steady win the race,” Ivey said at a news conference. “Alabamians should not be fearful but instead use common sense to watch out for ourselves and others.”