Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall has confirmed that, during a state of emergency, Gov. Kay Ivey does have the power to postpone the March 31 primary runoff over concerns about the spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19 if she chooses to.
Marshall issued his opinion in response to a request from Secretary of State John Merrill on Sunday, who wrote that “in order to effectively practice social distancing recommended” by multiple federal, state and local officials, the election on March 31 “must be postponed.”
The request to move back the runoff comes as other states have delayed primary elections as residents are told to remain home to slow the spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19. This week, cases in Alabama have continued to multiply as testing efforts have increased.
In his response to Merrill, Marshall said that when an Alabama governor declares a state of emergency as Ivey did last week, he or she gains “substantial powers” including the authority to postpone a primary runoff election to protect the public health and safety during the emergency.”
“Should the Governor exercise her authority to postpone the primary runoff election, any existing law setting a contrary date for the primary runoff election would be suspended by the Alabama Emergency Management Act of 1955,” Marshall concluded.
In his letter, Marshall also said he agreed with Merril’s opinion that, if possible, the primary should not likely be postponed beyond July 14, 2020, to avoid any possible interference with the general election that’s scheduled for Nov. 3.
Local officials in Mobile County have already expressed concerns about heading into an election during a state of emergency. However, Probate Judge Don Davis said earlier this week that his office is still moving forward with training for poll workers for the March 31 election.
However, Davis did say he too has heard concerns about the possible risk to human health and is also working to make sure that planned polling locations that have closed in response to COVID-19 — places like schools, churches and museums — are still willing to provide that service under the circumstances.
“Another issue that we’re dealing with is that the vast majority of our poll workers are 60 years of age and older,” Davis said. “We’ve received some calls from followers expressing concern and wanting to know whether they’re going to be asked to serve, and we’re just asking them to tread water right now until we can get direction from Montgomery.”
So far, Ivey has not confirmed whether she plans to move the primary runoff or when she would move it to. Requests sent to her office seeking comment did not immediately receive a response.
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