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Supreme Court blocks loosening Alabama voting restrictions amid pandemic

The US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against loosening voting restrictions in Alabama. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
The US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against loosening voting restrictions in Alabama. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

July 2 (UPI) -- A divided U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday night temporarily blocked a lower court's decision to loosen absentee voter restrictions in Alabama for this month's primary runoff election.

Without issuing an opinion, the Supreme Court voted along party lines 5-4 to grant a preliminary injunction blocking counties from setting up curbside voting booths and to remove absentee-ballot requirements for the Republican primary set for July 14.

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Liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan dissented.

"With the news that we have received a Stay in this process, I am excited that the United States Supreme Court has ruled in favor of those who believe in strict interpretation of the Constitution and has decided to grant the Stay and not endorse legislating form the bench," John Merrill, Alabama's Republican secretary of state, said in a statement.

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The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit filed by People First of Alabama and several individuals in May who sued the state over its requirement that a notary or two witnesses must sign absentee ballots and its ban on the curbside voting, arguing the measures violated their fundamental right to vote since they wouldn't be able to fulfill the absentee voting requirements or visit a polling station due to COVID-19.

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In his 66-page decision, Judge Abdul Kallon ruled in their favor, stating "the court finds that burdens imposed by the challenged election laws on voters at high risk of severe complications of death from COVID-19 are not justified by the state's interest in enforcing the laws."

The case was then shifted to the Supreme Court after an appeals court last week ruled it would not block Kallon's decision while the appeal process proceeded.

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Deuel Ross, senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which represented the plaintiffs, described the decision as "terrible news."

"The stay allows Alabama to impose onerous and dangerous restrictions on Absentee and in-person voting in Alabama for the July elections amid the COVID-19 pandemic," he said via Twitter, stating the case will continue with the trial scheduled for September ahead of the November general election.

The election had been scheduled for the end of March, but Gov. Kay Ivey postponed it until July 14. Following the postponement, Merril issued guidance that voters who feel it is either "impossible or unreasonable" to vote at polling stations can vote by an absentee ballot application.

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