Judge Waives Vote-by-Mail Rules Ahead of Alabama Senate Runoff

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville poses with his bus outside Decatur, Ala., on Feb. 25, 2020. (Courthouse News photo/Daniel Jackson)

(CN) — A federal judge waived some of the requirements to vote absentee in Alabama ahead of the Republican runoff primary between former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former football coach Tommy Tuberville as they compete to take on vulnerable Democratic Senator Doug Jones.

“Because the plaintiffs have shown that the challenged laws will likely dissuade some citizens from voting … the court finds that the burdens imposed by the challenged election laws on voters at high risk of severe complications or death from Covid-19 are not justified by the state’s interests in enforcing the laws,” U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon wrote Monday.

In his 77-page opinion, Kallon, an Obama appointee, issued a preliminary injunction waiving the requirements that an Alabama voter seeking to cast a ballot by mail must submit a copy of their photo ID and have a notary or two witnesses sign the ballot.

The injunction also prevents the state from shutting down attempts by county election officials to allow voters to drive up to a polling location and cast a ballot via “curbside voting” in next month’s runoff race.  

The waiving of absentee voting rules applies to “at least” three counties – Lee, Mobile and Jefferson – according to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which helped bring the lawsuit challenging the restrictions.  

Jeff Sessions talks with the media after voting in Alabama’s primary election on March 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

Kallon wrote the individual plaintiffs in the suit filed May 1 are voters over 65, are people with disabilities or have underlying medical conditions. For instance, one plaintiff is a man, under 65, who has cerebral palsy.

In a statement, Bill Van Der Pol, senior trial counsel at Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program said the voting law had placed people with disabilities in a position where they had to choose between the right to vote and the right to health and safety. ADAP helped bring the suit.

“On the thirtieth anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the decision of this court reaffirms the mandate of the law – people with disabilities shall have equal access to all programs and services,” Van Der Pol said.

A spokesperson for the Alabama Office of Secretary of State said state officials are reviewing the ruling and discussing how to proceed.

Election officials had argued the laws needed to be kept in place to ensure the election is legitimate.

But the burden placed on election officials did not outweigh the burden on Alabamians’ right to vote, Kallon wrote.

“The singular circumstances presented by the Covid-19 pandemic are far from ordinary, and, while the burden of communicating election rule changes is not minimal, the defendants have time to clearly and succinctly communicate the changes prior to the July 14 run-off election without causing chaos and confusion,” Kallon said.

Deuel Ross, senior counsel at NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said the ruling will head off an election like the one seen last week in Georgia, which saw long lines and issues with newly replaced voting machines.

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

Alabama voters have about three weeks to apply to vote absentee in the July 14 primary runoff election.

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