Federal judge says Alabama cannot ban curbside voting during pandemic

Published 3:20 pm Tuesday, June 16, 2020

A federal judge said Alabama cannot prohibit local officials from offering curbside voting during the COVID-19 pandemic and loosened restrictions on absentee ballots in three Alabama counties because of the health risk to voters.

U.S. District Judge Abdul K. Kallon entered the preliminary injunction Monday evening. Kallon ruled that the potential health risks to older and medically vulnerable voters in going to the polls, or getting absentee ballots witnessed or notarized, merited the changes.

The judge lifted a statewide prohibition on curbside voting at in-person polling locations. He also waived requirements in Mobile, Jefferson and Lee counties for voters to get their absentee ballot notarized or witnessed by two adults and the requirement that absentee voters who are 65 and older or disabled mail-in copies of their photo IDs. The three counties are where plaintiffs in the lawsuit live and the lawsuit named election officials in those three counties as defendants.

“In this case, if the challenged election laws are not enjoined, the individual plaintiffs and similarly-situated voters could likely face a painful and difficult choice between exercising their fundamental right to vote and safeguarding their health, which could prevent them from casting a vote in upcoming elections.“ Kallon wrote in the 77-page ruling.

The ruling applies to the July 14 runoff election.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said they are reviewing the ruling. “We are working with our team and the attorney general to determine the next steps,” Merrill said.

The ruling noted that Merrill had previously shut down curbside voting efforts, and that voting in such a manner isn’t blocked by Alabama law. Merrill said it is not authorized by law.

“Curbside voting is not provided for in the code or the constitution in the state of Alabama. …. The legislature has never passed a law that makes it permissible,” Merrill said.

The lawsuit was filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program.

“No one should have to risk their health to vote. We’re happy that the court removed Alabama’s needless barriers to voting and that many tens of thousands of vulnerable people will now have a safe means of voting in July,” Deuel Ross, Senior Counsel at the legal Defense Fund said in a statement.

Ross noted problems that happened in Georgia’s most recent election.

“What happened in Georgia was a disaster, and the Court’s order will help prevent Alabama from facing a similar crisis.”

Concerns over coronavirus being spread at the polls has prompted some states to push to expand voting options and sparked partisan debate over the idea in others.

Merrill has waived the excuse requirement for absentee voting for the July primary runoff election, a move he said should allow more people to vote by absentee if they fear going to the polls. Alabamians are normally only allowed to vote absentee if they are sick, out of town or working an all-day shift.