• Tamia Heard

Lawsuit Urges Alabama to Offer Safer Voting Options

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

Montgomery, Ala. - On May 1, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program filed a lawsuit in response to Alabama’s election procedures. The complaint notes that these procedures are burdensome and  disproportionately impact voters with disabilities, older voters, and black voters, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. 

In Alabama, absentee voters must submit photocopies of their photo identification as well as sign the absentee ballot before a notary or two witnesses, thus impeding on social distancing measures. The lawsuit argues that these restrictions disenfranchise a significant number of Alabamians, and now unnecessarily endangers voters amid the pandemic. “No one should have to choose between their life or their vote,” LDF Senior Counsel Deuel said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

“Black Alabamians are 41 percent of COVID-19 patients and over 45 percent of COVID-19-related deaths despite making up just 27 percent of its total population,” the group said in the complaint. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, not only are minority groups particularly vulnerable, but also persons with underlying health conditions and low access to healthcare. This poses a threat and creates more of a disadvantage to voters in Alabama. 

Current restrictions only allow those that are sick, out of town, or working during poll hours to vote absentee.  Secretary of State John Merrill has decided to waive these specific regulations for Alabama’s July 14 primary runoff election. Still, vulnerable populations will be forced to break social distancing practices to follow through on the other absentee voting guidelines. The complaint urges the state to waive the current absentee mandates and to offer curbside voting which would allow voters to safely cast ballots from their vehicles.

As of May 26, the Justice Department has filed a statement of interest in the lawsuit. “Alabama’s witness requirement for absentee ballot envelopes does not violate [the Voting Rights Act],” the Justice Department filing said.  “It  is not a literacy test, it is not an educational requirement, and it is not a moral character requirement,” the filing stated. They did not respond to any of the other claims from the lawsuit.

Coronavirus concerns are still at a high as the virus continues to spread.  More state lawmakers are weighing in on mail-in-voting options. 

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