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Alabama Must Take Steps to Better Protect Voters During COVID-19 Pandemic, Federal Court Rules

October 1, 2020


O’Melveny Teams with NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Alabama, Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program to Secure Victory Ahead of 2020 Presidential Election

WASHINGTON, DC—October 1, 2020—A federal court issued a decision yesterday that will help protect the health and right to vote of medically vulnerable Alabamians.

The ruling in People First of Alabama v. Merrill means that significant hurdles to voting have been removed for many voters throughout Alabama. Medically vulnerable Alabama voters will no longer need a witness or notary to be eligible to vote by mail. This important ruling by the Court protects the right to vote for all Alabama voters who have an underlying medical condition that puts them at a heightened risk from COVID-19. Now, these endangered voters need only establish medical vulnerability by providing a statement to that effect, including a simple explanation that they cannot safely obtain the signatures of two witnesses or a notary public, as would otherwise have been required.

Similarly, the decision separately protects voters 65 and older with an underlying medical condition by eliminating the ID requirement so long as they provide other identifying information such as their driver’s license number or last four digits of their Social Security number. Finally, the Court lifted, in its entirety, Secretary John Merrill’s ban on curbside voting, further enhancing access-to-voting for the vulnerable.

The case was brought on behalf of several Alabama voters who require a safe alternative to voting in-person at a polling place during the COVID-19 pandemic because their health conditions make them higher risk for severe illness and death from COVID-19, as well as People First of Alabama, Greater Birmingham Ministries, the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, and Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute.

O’Melveny joined the plaintiffs’ team two months before the September 8 trial date as the parties headed into an intense period of discovery and pretrial submissions. Partners Katrina Robson, Steve Brody, and Peter Friedman led the firm’s team of more than 20 lawyers working on the case, and all three O’Melveny partners appeared at the nine-day trial before Judge Abdul Kallon. The O’Melveny team then joined with their co-counsel to complete post-trial briefing within just four days of the trial’s September 18 conclusion.

Alabama currently has the fourth-highest per capita rate of COVID-19 cases in the country, and the virus continues to disproportionately infect and take the lives of older voters, Black voters, and voters with disabilities.

The court’s ruling recognizes that Alabama voters like plaintiffs Eric Peebles, Annie Carolyn Thompson, Howard Porter Jr., Teresa Bettis, and Sheryl Threadgill-Matthews are at higher risk for severe complications from COVID-19 and that forcing them to comply with the challenged provisions would needlessly endanger their lives.

The court's ruling and order are available here and here, respectively.

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Christopher Rieck
O’Melveny & Myers LLP
+1 212 326 2218