The Supreme Court granted Alabama’s request to reinstate photo ID and witness requirements for absentee ballots on Thursday. As is typical of such briefs, the Court did not explain their 5-4 decision.
The decision overturns an order issued by US District Judge Abdul Kallon that made it easier for people in three Alabama counties to vote. When Alabama’s Secretary of State John Merrill expanded absentee voting due to the pandemic, he did not ease the restrictions placed on absentee ballots. Currently, Alabama voters must submit absentee ballots with a copy of their photo ID and an affidavit signed by a notary public or two adult witnesses. Voters rights groups argue that this places an unlawful burden on voters, and that compliance puts voters’ lives and health at risk. Merrill has dismissed these concerns.
People First of Alabama and other voting rights organizations sued the State of Alabama over the restrictions. Judge Kallon ruled in their favor, and Alabama filed a timely appeal. It also asked the 11th Circuit to stay the order while their appeal moved forward. The 11th Circuit denied the quest, and Alabama appealed the denial to the Court. The state has argued that Judge Kallon issued his decision too close the election. Lawyers for the voting rights groups dispute this, and insist that Alabama has not provided sufficient reasons for maintaining the voting restrictions during a pandemic.
The Court’s decision is in line with recent decisions upholding restrictions on voting despite the risks inherent during a pandemic. Last month, the Court rejected a request that would have allowed everyone in Texas to vote by mail. In April, the Court overturned a Wisconsin district judge’s ruling that extended the absentee ballot deadline. The Wisconsin decision came down close to the election, which the governor had attempted to push back over public safety concerns. The Wisconsin Supreme Court overruled the governor’s attempt.