(CN) – Declaring a Senate runoff election a serious threat to public health if it went forward as scheduled this month, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey used the powers she gained when declaring the coronavirus an emergency to delay the contest more than three months.
The U.S. Senate runoff between former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Tommy Tuberville, former football coach at Auburn University, was originally set for March 31 but will now be decided July 14, after Ivey’s proclamation Wednesday.
What was expected to be a sprint between the two Republicans, neither of whom received a majority of votes during the March 3 primary election, has turned into a marathon that will continue for weeks into the southern heat.
The winner of the race will challenge incumbent Senator Doug Jones, a Democrat, in the November general election. Jones, who won the vacant seat after Sessions was chosen as attorney general under President Donald Trump, is considered one of the most vulnerable senators up for reelection this year.
Governor Ivey, a Republican, said holding the runoff in less than two weeks would imperil poll workers, many of whom are older and are at a greater risk from the virus known as COVID-19. Furthermore, voters gathering at polling places and waiting in lines would run against the admonishments of health experts to avoid groups of people and keep a 6-foot buffer from other individuals.
“There is not enough time before then to implement best practices for safely conducting an election under conditions related to COVID-19,” she wrote in a three-page proclamation.
Ivey’s proclamation comes the day after the Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall issued a 4-page emergency opinion saying the governor had the power to push off the election and Alabama’s secretary of state had the authority to certify the results of a postponed election.
“The orders, rules, and regulations issued by the Governor under the [Alabama Emergency Management Act of 1955] … have the force of law,” the opinion states.
Ivey declared a state of emergency on Friday because of the presence of COVID-19 in the state. Five other states have postponed elections because of the spread of the virus, including Ohio, Maryland, Kentucky, Georgia and Louisiana.
According to Johns Hopkins University, there are 39 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Alabama as of Wednesday afternoon.
The Sessions campaign did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment on the delay.
On Friday, citing his experience on Trump’s national security council, Sessions called for the White House to ramp up testing sites, search for alternative spaces to house quarantined and ill Americans, and shut down the border to tourism.
“As your next senator, you can be sure that I understand how this massive government works, and often fails to work, and importantly, how to force action to help our citizens,” Sessions said in a statement. “In this crisis, you can know that I can bring knowledge, experience, insight and determination.”
At the beginning of the runoff race on March 4, Trump took to Twitter to give his former attorney general an anti-endorsement, criticizing Sessions for not ending the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election while he was attorney general. An endorsement for Tuberville followed days later. During the primary race, both candidates vowed to support the president in the Senate.
A spokesman for the Tuberville campaign said it did not have a comment about the runoff postponement when reached by phone. The campaign also did not respond to Courthouse News’ requests to clarify Tuberville’s views on the coronavirus.
On Feb. 25, before the primary election, Tuberville told a group of supporters at a campaign stop the coronavirus would be used to attack Trump.
“This is where we’re at in our country. Everybody is panicking, the coronavirus,” Tuberville said. “It’s the flu, OK? We lose 10,000 people in this country every year to the flu. 10,000. Oh my God, what if it comes here? It’s the flu! OK? Get it in your mind.”
Meanwhile, in a statement sent though his campaign, Jones said he commended the governor’s postponement of the election and used the opportunity to call for ballot box access.
“Right now, everyone’s top priority should be to stop the spread of the virus and keep folks safe at home, and that includes allowing Alabamians to vote absentee and vote by mail,” the senator said.