Supreme Court bans curbside voting in Alabama

Despite COVID-19, Alabama voters can't hand their ballots to workers outside polling sites.

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The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a voting accommodation in Alabama put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

In a 5-3 decision, the high court sided with a lower court and reinstated a ban on curbside voting. The process would have allowed Cotton State voters to vote from their cars at the curbside of a polling location and hand their ballots off to a poll worker. 

Poll workers in Madison, Wisconsin convene during curbside voting in April. Because of COVID-19, the number of polling places across the nation has been drastically reduced, but the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down curbside voting in Alabama. (Photo by Andy Manis/Getty Images)

Alabama Secretary of State John H. Merrill issued a ban on the practice earlier this year, even for people with disabilities or high-risk conditions which could put them at risk for contracting the virus and for whom it is disproportionately fatal. 

Several at-risk voters challenged the ban in May and initially won that case, with a federal court ruling that a policy to allow but not require counties to conduct curbside voting was a “reasonable accommodation” of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

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The state fought back all the way to the Supreme Court and ultimately got a ruling in its favor. 

In a statement, Merrill called the decision “a ruling in favor of election integrity and security [and] … a win for the people of Alabama.”

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In writing for the three dissenting justices, Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed to one of the case’s plaintiffs. Howard Porter Jr. is a Black man in his 70s who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and asthma. 

Porter had previously told the lower court “many of my [ancestors] even died to vote. And while I don’t mind dying to vote, I think we’re past that time.”

Sotomayor also made note that the state’s absentee ballot process is challenging for disabled voters because the ballot must be returned with a copy of an ID card. 

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In arguing for the safety of in-person voting, Alabama notes that like all other states, it received a portion of the CARES Act’s $400 million in federal funding to help prepare for voting during the pandemic. 

On its website, the state writes that the funds will be used to reimburse counties for various preparation and election expenses, including but not limited to masks, gloves, disinfectant spray, hand-sanitizer, alcohol wipes and professional cleaning services to return polling places to their sanitary pre-election condition.

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