BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Alabama have joined a lawsuit initially filed on May 1, 2020, by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), Southern Poverty Law Center, and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program seeking to ensure that no eligible Alabama voter is denied the right to vote in the 2020 elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The case was filed on behalf of several Alabama voters who require a safe alternative to voting in-person at a polling place during the COVID-19 pandemic because their health conditions make them higher risk for severe illness and death from COVID-19. It was also brought on behalf of advocacy and membership organizations People First of Alabama, Greater Birmingham Ministries, the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, and Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute.
Most states allow any eligible voter to cast an absentee ballot, but Alabama requires that voters provide an excuse to do so. Although Secretary of State John Merrill expanded absentee ballot access to any voter for the July 14 runoff elections, he has failed to make any changes for the November general election and has refused to remove additional burdensome photo ID and witness requirements for absentee voting that require at-risk voters to break social distancing.
This means that the vast majority of voters would be forced to vote in-person — or avoid voting at all for fear of becoming ill, disenfranchising thousands. And for those who do qualify to vote absentee, the onerous notary, witness, and photo ID requirements will disenfranchise even more.
“Alabama is in the middle of a deadly and ongoing pandemic but is refusing to take common-sense steps to protect the public’s health and their right to vote for all elections in 2020. That’s why we are taking legal action,” said Alora Thomas-Lundborg, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.
The lawsuit is also challenging the state’s de facto ban on curbside voting that prevents voters who need or prefer to vote in-person from having a safe, accessible method of voting that is recommended by the CDC, as well as requirements that force Alabamians who are voting by mail to secure two witnesses or a notary to sign their ballot envelope and require voters to mail-in copies of their photo IDs in order to vote absentee.
“In the midst of an out-of-control pandemic, Alabama officials should be doing everything they can to ensure that all voters have a safe, fair, and equal opportunity to cast a ballot. Instead, officials have chosen politics over public health and safety. They are fighting to make it harder to cast a ballot and have that ballot counted. This litigation is crucial to ensure safe, fair, and equal opportunity to vote,” said Randall C. Marshall, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama.
“As we head into preparations for the November general election with COVID-19 cases rising in Alabama, it is critical that our election officials take seriously the protection of voters, poll workers, and our democracy,” said Caren Short, senior staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center.“In this critical election season, we are grateful to have Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute, the ACLU, and the ACLU of Alabama join this effort to ensure that every voter is heard. No voter should have to choose between exercising their fundamental right to vote and their health or the health of a loved one.”
“Over the July 4th weekend, Alabama reported nearly 5,000 new cases of COVID-19 and that local hospitals are almost at capacity,” said Deuel Ross, LDF senior counsel. “Yet, state leaders insist on enforcing draconian restrictions on in-person and absentee voting that no other state finds necessary to combat the almost nonexistent issue of voter fraud. These restrictions are needless in normal circumstances. They are deadly in a pandemic. At trial in September, we will work to make sure that state leaders comply with their constitutional duty to protect the rights and safety of all voters.”
The case, People First of Alabama v. Merrill, was filed in the U.S. District Court in Birmingham, Alabama.