Alabama Attorney General: State of Emergency allows March 31 runoff postponement
MONTGOMERY — Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office on Tuesday afternoon issued an emergency opinion that concludes Governor Kay Ivey can legally postpone the state’s scheduled March 31 primary runoff under her emergency powers.
This came after Secretary of State John Merrill on Sunday requested an emergency opinion on whether the governor’s powers during a state of emergency allowed such a postponement. Merrill’s office called for the runoff to be postponed if legally possible due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic; current laws outside a state of emergency do not provide for the postponement of an election once the date has officially been set.
Governor Ivey on Friday declared a State of Emergency after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency.
The state now awaits a formal announcement from Ivey on whether she will invoke her power and indeed move the runoff.
The emergency opinion, after analyzing the relevant law, concluded, “The Governor, therefore, has the authority under the [Alabama Emergency Management Act] to declare a state of emergency as a result of the emergence of the COVID-19 virus, and she has the authority to postpone a primary runoff election to protect the public health and safety during the proclaimed emergency. Should the Governor exercise her authority to postpone the primary runoff election, any existing law setting a contrary date for the primary runoff election would be suspended by the AEMA.”
The opinion further wrote to Merrill, “As the state’s chief election official, you have acknowledged that the primary should likely not be postponed beyond July 14, 2020, to avoid interference with the general election in November. We concur with this conclusion and agree that the election should likely not be postponed beyond this date unless the proclaimed emergency persists.”
Trump over the past two days has expressed general opposition to states moving their election dates due to coronavirus, although CDC guidelines now caution against gatherings of over 10 people in efforts to flatten the curve on the spread of the disease.
On Tuesday, Madison County Probate Judge Frank Barger issued a release stating that he, Madison County Sheriff Kevin Turner and Circuit Clerk Debra Kizer share Merrill’s view that the runoff should be postponed due to concerns over administering the election.
Barger listed the following concerns for local election officials in Alabama:
- Citizens gathering to vote based on the CDC recommendation that groups of people should not exceed 10
- Exposure of our available election workers to the general public as many are in the most at-risk category
- Lack of enough election workers necessary to execute the election based on their concerns about exposure and desire to practice social distancing
- Voting locations that might not be available due to their closure to public access or complete shutdown
- The ability to procure necessary supplies to provide proper protection to citizens and election workers – this includes hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, etc.
In a tweet following the opinion from the attorney general’s office, Association of County Commissions of Alabama president David Money, the probate judge and county commission chair of Henry County, expressed his support for postponing the runoff.
“It would be very difficult to properly conduct this election given the adverse circumstances. We respectfully ask [Governor Ivey] for her support,” Money concluded.
Gina Maiola, press secretary for Ivey, said in a statement following the opinion’s release, “The governor appreciates the attention to this matter by both the attorney general and secretary of state. She is in the process of thoroughly reviewing all factors surrounding moving Alabama’s upcoming runoff election.”
This is breaking news and may be updated.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn