Gov. Kay Ivey has moved the March 31 primary to July 14 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic following an attorney general's opinion that she has that emergency power. Walker County Probate Judge A. Lee Tucker warned local poll workers not to come to the polls on March 31 and to call his office with any questions.
Gov. Kay Ivey has moved the March 31 primary to July 14 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic following an attorney general's opinion that she has that emergency power.
Walker County Probate Judge A. Lee Tucker warned local poll workers not to come to the polls on March 31 and to call his office with any questions.
"These are extraordinary times but we will continue to show the Walker County spirt and all get through this together," Tucker said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
Ivey said in the proclamation she is taking the move as the March 31 primary "poses a serious public-health treat because there is not enough time before then to implement best practices for safely conducting the election under conditions related to COVID-19. "
The move - which adds 15 weeks to campaigning for runoff races such as the Alabama Senate seat and the District 3 Walker County Commission contest - was widely desired as officials began to be concerned the growing health crisis.
Many public officials openly questioned whether older voters and poll workers would have trouble getting to the polls to protect their health. Some also were concerned over whether some regular polling locations would be available if shutdowns and prohibitions against gathering extended to March 31.
On Wednesday, Ivey announced her decision, following Attorney General Steve Marshall's Tuesday night emergency ruling that Ivey had the right to delay under her own state emergency declaration. Secretary of State John Merrill asked for the ruling earlier in the week.
“Governor Ivey has the legal authority under the Alabama Emergency Management Act to declare a state of emergency as a result of the current pandemic,” Marshall said in the Ivey statement. “Accordingly, she also has the lawful ability to postpone a primary runoff election to protect public health and safety during the state of emergency.”
Ivey said in a statement Wednesday she was using "my extraordinary powers under the Emergency Management Act" to move the date.
“The ability to hold free and fair elections is an inherent right as citizens of the United States and the great state of Alabama, but the safety and wellbeing of Alabama citizens is paramount," she said. “Our State Health Officer, Dr. Scott Harris, is recommending that we should practice social distancing and refrain from public gatherings of more than 25 individuals. Maintaining a 6-foot distance between one another is paramount. This guidance alone would be making an election day a hotbed for spreading the virus.
“Persons who are 65 years or older as well as those with previous heart and lung diseases are more vulnerable to the Coronavirus. Knowing the average age of our faithful poll workers qualifies them to be most at-risk adds the necessity to extend the election runoff date.
Merrill said in a statement Wednesday that public guidelines from the federal and state officials "have made it clear that it is no longer advisable" to hold the runoff on March 31. With the delay to July 14, "we are continuing Alabama’s practice of providing free and fair elections that do not compromise the safety and health of our voters, poll workers, and anyone else who may be involved with the elections process.
"This new date will allow for the electoral process to continue in a normal manner. This delay will allow all local election officials the time to assess and evaluate the changes that must be made to ensure the Runoff Election is administered according to plan.
Merrill said voters may register to vote until Monday, June 29, and absentee ballot applications already submitted will be valid for the July 14 election.
"All absentee ballot applications must be received by the close of business on Thursday, July 9. If delivered by hand, absentee ballots must be received by the Absentee Election Manager by the close of business Monday, July 13. If returning by mail, the last day to postmark an absentee ballot is Monday, July 13," Merrill said.
Voters eligible to vote pursuant to the Uniformed and Overseas Absentee Voting Act will have until Tuesday, July 14, to postmark an absentee ballot.
"I am grateful to Governor Ivey and General Marshall for their proactive leadership, sincere dedication, and spirit of teamwork that we have seen displayed during these trying times to ensure we are providing a safe and secure environment for all 3,585,209 voters in the State of Alabama to participate in the electoral process."
Ivey noted the secretary of state shall will give notice on the election and provide the amended administrative calendar to election officials. The calendar was updated on the secretary of state website by Wednesday.
Tucker noted Circuit Clerk Susan Odom, who is the absentee ballot manager, request for absentee ballot applications to be made "by mail while the current health emergency remains in effect as access to the courthouse is currently restricted."
Odom's office can be reached at 205-384-7268, while Tucker said he can be called at 205-384-7281. "She, like I, will continue to work and maintain our office services," Tucker said.
Tucker said, "I applaud the Governors’ decision as it will allow a safe election that will not compromise the health of our voters in Walker County, the poll workers or our county employees who are involved in this important civic right.
Rachel Williams, a registrar with the Walker County Board of Registrars, said Wednesday the board's office at the Walker County Courthouse was open but not seeing much traffic. She said applications for voter registration will also be outside the office, and one can then mail back the application or slip it under the door.
Odom said absentee applications and ballots can be mailed to the Walker County Circuit Clerk's Office at 1803 Third Ave., Suite 205, Jasper, AL 35501. She reminded absentee applicants to include a copy of their photo ID, such as a driver's license.
Jeff Sessions, who is in the Senate runoff with Tommy Tuberville, said in a statement,
“I know that Governor Ivey has considered the health of Alabamians and that she has focused on their best interests in making her decision. The safety and health of Alabamians must take precedence.
“I am confident that Secretary of State John Merrill and circuit clerks across the state, in consultation with public health officials, will work hard to ensure a safe and orderly runoff election on July 14th. It is important that every voter's voice has a fair chance to be heard, whether the vote is cast via an absentee ballot, or at the ballot box on election day. We intend to maintain our vigorous campaign up until the last day, even as we are careful to do so in a manner that puts the health and safety of the public first."
Tuberville's campaign could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Both Jim Borden and Michael Pate, who are in the District 3 runoff, said they agreed with the change and the public's health came first.
"I was kind of disappointed. You plan on your elections and then they have to postpone it. But with the virus out like it is, the coronavirus, that is all understandable," Borden said. "I believe if they had tried to hold it according to schedule, there would have been a very, very low turnout anyway. It is in everybody's best interests to delay it."
He said his campaign would try "afresh" before the July 14 balloting, waiting on campaigning until the virus situation settles down as people don't want candidates to drive up and shake hands. He said he would abide by federal and state recommendations.
Pate said he agreed with the change, as "people's health come way before election things. I'm with the governor on that, because we don't want anyone getting sick."
Instead of knocking on doors and shaking hands, Pate said he would rely on newspaper and other advertising. "Out of respect, I don't want to go out here and be spreading germs if it is out here. The people's health is more important to me than anything," he said, encouraging people to stay well. "Right now, I think everyone needs to keep to themselves unless you are going to work."
Ivey's proclamation also carried other emergency actions on other related topics in terms of the state's actions on the pandemic.
The governor put into writing her verbal order to close all K-12 public schools from the end of the day March 18 to a reopening on April 6. She said the state superintendent and the state health officer would continue to consult with each other and advise about the opening or closing of schools in response to COVID-19.
She also gave allowance for public boards in the state to participate in meetings, establish quorums and take action through telephone conference, video conference and other similar equipment if the officials are responding to the COVID-19 virus spread and if the equipment allowed all persons participating to hear each other. Ivey said the government bodies should encourage public participation and nothing about standing requirements for meeting notices would change as a result.
Ivey said less than 12 hours after the end of such meetings, the government body shall post a summary of the meeting in a prominent location on its website, and, if no website exists, on any other location used to provide reasonable public notice. "The summary shall recount the deliberations conducted and the action taken with reasonable specificity to allow the public to understand what happened," the proclamation said.
The proclamation also said her March 13 emergency declaration satisfies emergency provisions in the state's bid law, so that contracts for goods and services can be made to respond to COVID-19 without bid advertisements. It notes officials must maintain itemized records of all expenditures.
Ivey also provided in the proclamation for state employees to be reimbursed for "actual and necessary expenses" in responding to the virus when called away from their home base of operation.