Supreme Court Pumps Brakes on Curbside Voting in Alabama

October 22, 2020 by Dan McCue
Alabama State Capitol.

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court put the brakes on a lower court order that would have allowed curbside voting in Alabama in November.

The underlying lawsuit was filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program on behalf of voters with pre-existing health conditions who are worried they’ll be exposed to the coronavirus while at the polls.

A lower court ruled Alabama counties could offer curbside voting to these individuals.

But Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall and Secretary of State John Merrill sought to block the lower court ruling, arguing that because the state does not have a law expressly permitting curbside voting, the accommodation should not be allowed.

Alabama, Marshall said, has already taken ” extraordinary measures to ensure that all voters can vote safely.”

To implement curbside voting now, just days before the election, would create “chaos,” he said.

The justices split 5-3 on the matter, with the court’s three liberal members dissenting.

Though the majority did not explain its rationale for tossing the lower court ruling, Justice Sonia Sotomayor had no reservations in describing why she disagreed with them.

In a dissent which Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan joined, Sotomayor said making curbside voting available to those who sought it was but a “modest” accommodation that she would have allowed to go forward.

“It does not require all counties to adopt curbside voting; it simply gives prepared counties the option to do so,” she wrote. “This remedy respects both the right of voters with disabilities to vote safely and the state’s interest in orderly elections.”

Alabama Secretary of State Merrill said in a written statement,

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have worked diligently with local election officials in all 67 counties to offer safe and secure voting methods – including through the in-person and mail-in processes. I am glad the Supreme Court has recognized our actions to expand absentee voting, while also maintaining the safeguards put into place by the state Legislature.

“The fact that we have already shattered voter participation records with the election still being 13 days away is proof that our current voting options are easy, efficient, and accessible for all of Alabama’s voters,” he added.

This is the second time the Supreme Court has waded into the issues of curbside voting in Alabama. In July, before the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court put on hold a lower court ruling that would have allowed curbside voting in the state’s primary and would have also eased absentee ballot requirements in three of the state’s largest counties.

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