Secretary of State encourages absentee voting; Lawsuit claims there are barriers to vote during pandemic

Controversy arises over mail in voting

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The COVID-19 pandemic has some people questioning whether it will be safe to go to the polls to vote.

“If they feel more comfortable doing so we want them to vote absentee,” said Secretary of State John Merrill. “We try to encourage them to vote absentee.”

This would require absentee voters to submit photocopies of their ID and to sign the absentee ballot before a notary or two witnesses.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and other groups filed a lawsuit alleging that these requirements violate the Voting Rights Act during this pandemic. Caren Short is an SPLC senior staff attorney.

“So for a lot of people, they don't have a printer at home,” Short said. “These are difficult obstacles. Even though for some of us, it might seem like not a big deal. These are obstacles for people to overcome.”

The lawsuit challenges the witness requirement on absentee ballots, the photocopy of the voter ID requirement for absentee request forms and some absentee ballots themselves, and the lack of curbside voting at in-person polling locations.

“These are people that they’re talking about in generalities,” Merrill said. “Show me. Show me one, and we’ll take care of that one.”

Merrill points to voter registration numbers.

“They’re entitled to their own opinion, but they’re not entitled to their own facts. And the facts are, this is January the 19th 2015. We’ve broken every record in the history of the state for voter registration," Merrill said.

The deadline to submit an absentee ballot application is Thursday, July 9. The primary runoff election is July 14.

Merrill says masks and social distancing will be encouraged but not required for voters. He said poll workers will be required to wear gloves and masks.

There have been conversations across the country on direct mail-in voting where voters will be sent a ballot without requesting it, according to Merrill. He said it would take several years to phase in this process so people do not receive multiple ballots and to avoid mishandled ballots.

“Regardless of their interest level or not receives a ballot in the mail,” he said. “Those are problems that we will not be having in state of Alabama.”

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