Gov. Kay Ivey has delayed Alabama’s March 31 primary runoff election until July 14, 2020, as the state takes unprecedented measures to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Attorney General Steve Marshall previously confirmed Ivey had the authority to move the date of the election using powers she has under Alabama’s current state of emergency.
Given the current recommendation of health officials to practice social distancing, Ivey and Marshall said Wednesday that postponing the election on March 31 was “clearly in the best interest of Alabamians” and would ensure everyone has the opportunity to fully participate in the runoff election and do so safely.
“We’d be taking a human health risk just by having people stand in line waiting to vote,” Ivey said during a press conference Wednesday. “I’m also aware that our faithful poll workers are often retirees and many of them are among those that have the highest risk from this disease.”
Secretary of State John Merrill, who serves as the state elections officer, said his office would be releasing updated deadlines for things like voter registration and absentee ballot application requirements to local election supervisors later today.
He also said that all citizens would be eligible to vote via absentee ballot on July 14.
“Anybody that would like to make an absentee ballot application is able to do so,” Merrill said. “The appropriate box for an individual to check would be the one that says ‘I’m concerned I may have an illness or infirmity.’ Every voter should also include a copy of their valid photo ID when they submit an absentee ballot application for it to be processed, according to a law passed last year.”
Ivey said it’s a “very wise decision” for Alabamians to apply for absentee ballots to lower the chances of COVID-19 being spread during the rescheduled primary election. She said it would further underscore the state’s commitment to “practicing social distancing and protecting citizens’ right to vote.”
Former United States Attorney General and Alabama Senate Candidate Jeff Sessions is competing against former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville in one of the marquee matches in the runoff, and Wednesday he said ‘the safety and health of Alabamians must take precedence.’
“I know that Governor Ivey has considered the health of Alabamians and that she has focused on their best interests in making her decision,” Sessions said in a statement. “I am confident Secretary Merrill and circuit clerks across the state, in consultation with public health officials, will work hard to ensure a safe and orderly runoff election on July 14. It is important that every voter’s voice has a fair chance to be heard, whether the vote is cast via an absentee ballot, or at the ballot box on election day.”
Tuberville’s campaign has yet to release any statement on the rescheduling of the runoff. However, not all candidates have are happy with plan the state has rolled out.
Kiani Gardner, who is challenging James Averhart in the runoff to the Democratic nomination for Alabama’s First Congressional District, said that, although she’s “glad to see that our elected leaders have finally acknowledged” the effect COVID-19 could have on the election, sending out absentee ballots immediately forces candidates to continue campaigning during the outbreak.
“This decision, to encourage voting over a four-month period, means that as a candidate, I must continue to campaign, fundraise, and ask for votes at a time when, like all Alabamians, I am concerned about the physical and economic health of my family and community,” Gardner said. “With the current election date of July 14, I am calling for the continuation of absentee applications, but for ballots to be mailed beginning June 14.”
Gardner said the time would give Alabamians a break from “partisan politics” and let candidates focus on their families and working together to stop the spread of COVID-19.
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