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Merrill wants March 31 runoff postponed due to coronavirus — Does current law allow it?

A Sunday evening release from Alabama Secretary of State John H. Merrill’s office called for the upcoming March 31 primary runoff to be postponed, however it is still up in the air whether that will — or actually can — happen.

The release outlined that following the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the state and the respective declarations of a national emergency by President Donald Trump and a state of emergency by Governor Kay Ivey, Merrill has requested an emergency opinion from Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office related to the potential postponement of the runoff.

“The health and well-being of the people of this state are of paramount importance. In order to effectively practice social distancing, as recommended by the President of the United States, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the Alabama Department of Public Health, etc., the March 31 Runoff Election must be postponed,” the release declared.

“In postponing the election until the threat of the Coronavirus is eliminated, Alabamians will be able to participate in the electoral process in a safe and healthy environment, as they have done in the past,” the release continued.

However, the release also noted that, “Currently, neither the Code of Alabama nor the Constitution of the State of Alabama allow for the suspension, delay, or postponement of an election once the date has been set.”

“This is why, in 2019, our office asked the Legislature to give the Governor the explicit power to be able to take prescribed action through means that would be codified. Our attempt was unsuccessful but in the 2020 Legislative Session, we have asked Senator Donnie Chesteen and Representative David Standridge to introduce this legislation once again for consideration by the membership of their respective bodies,” the release explained.

“In the nature of keeping Alabamians safe from the potential spread of the virus, Merrill has asked if, under the emergency powers granted to the Governor under Section 31-9-1 et seq. Ala. Code, the Governor has the authority to postpone the election,” the released advised. “The Secretary of State’s Office will continue to monitor the situation and will provide additional updates as they become available.”

Absentee ballots have not yet gone out, thus votes in the runoff would not be affected by a potential postponement at this time.

Before the national emergency and state of emergency declarations, Merrill’s office had announced Friday morning that the runoff would continue as planned as of that day. His office added at the time that those worried about the potential spread of coronavirus could vote absentee.

RELATED: What Alabamians need to know about preventing coronavirus spread — Wash hands, don’t panic and more

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn