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SPLC: In Huge Win for Alabamians, Eleventh Circuit Allows All State Probate Judges to Establish Curbside Voting for July 14 Runoff

ATLANTA – Today, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a huge win for Alabama voters who are at risk of contracting COVID-19. The Circuit Court denied the defendants’ emergency motion to stay a lower court decision in People First of Alabama v. Merrill. This decision allows the district court’s injunction to remain in effect for the July 14 runoff. That order permits any county probate judge in Alabama to establish procedures and protocol for curbside voting without interference by Secretary of State John Merrill. Further, in three counties – Jefferson, Lee, and Mobile – voters may bypass witness, notary, and photo ID requirements for absentee ballots.

Under the Court’s order, voters in Jefferson, Mobile, and Lee Counties may bypass the witness/notary requirement by including a statement — signed by the voter under penalty of perjury — with their absentee ballot that they suffer from a medical condition (like asthma, diabetes, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, etc.) that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified as placing them at a substantially higher risk of developing a severe case or dying of COVID-19. 

To bypass the photo ID requirement, voters in Jefferson, Mobile, and Lee Counties can submit a similar affidavit with their application for an absentee ballot stating they are age 65 or older OR have a disability. Voters with a disability include people with an underlying medical condition that the CDC has identified as high-risk for COVID-19. 

The following statements are from the groups representing the plaintiff organizations and named individuals:

“This is an important win for Alabama voters at-risk for COVID-19,” said Caren Short, senior staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “As cases continue to surge across the state — disproportionately impacting Black Alabamians — it is critical that those most at-risk from COVID-19 can vote safely.”

“The 11th Circuit's decision means hundreds of thousands of Alabama voters will be able to safely exercise their constitutional right to vote,” said NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., Senior Counsel Natasha Merle. “The witness signature and photo ID requirements were obstacles that would have unnecessarily exposed people to COVID-19. We also hope to see local officials offering curbside voting in July and beyond. Today, on the seventh anniversary of the Shelby County v. Holder decision, the 11th Circuit ruling makes major strides toward a safe, accessible, and fair election.”

“As the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals noted, ‘Forcing a high-risk voter to choose between risking her health or life or abandoning her right to vote’ violates the ADA because it unduly restricts a person with a disability to equal access and enjoyment to the right to vote, which is a hallmark of any democracy,” said Bill Van Der Pol, Senior Trial Counsel for the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program

The Circuit Court decision in full can be found here: https://www.naacpldf.org/wp-content/uploads/11th-Cir-Order-DENYING-Emergency-Stay-Motion.pdf 

The District Court injunction in full can be found here: https://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/documents/055_-_memorandum_opinion.pdf