By TODD STACY and MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Attorney General Steve Marshall on Tuesday said Gov. Kay Ivey has the authority to postpone the upcoming March 31 runoff elections under power granted to “protect the public health and safety” during a proclaimed state of emergency.
In an opinion released at the request of Secretary of State John Merrill, Marshall wrote that state law grants the governor “substantial powers,” including emergency powers to interrupt the movement of people in public meetings or gatherings.
“The Governor, therefore, has the authority under the [Alabama Emergency Management Act] to declare a state of emergency as a result of the emergence of the COVID-19 virus, and she has the authority to postpone a primary runoff election to protect the public health and safety during the proclaimed emergency,” Marshall wrote.
Ivey proclaimed a state of emergency due to the coronavirus on Friday.
Merrill on Sunday asked Marshall for a legal opinion because he said state law does not specifically address moving the dates of already-set elections. After first saying there was no need to postpone the runoff election, Merrill changed his mind over the weekend and strongly advocated for moving it if the law allowed.
“In order to effectively practice social distancing, as recommended by the President of the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Alabama Department of Public Health, etc., the March 31 runoff election must be postponed,” Merrill said in his letter to Marshall. “The health and well-being of the people of this state are of paramount importance.”
A spokeswoman for Ivey said the governor had not yet made a decision on postponing the runoff election.
“The governor appreciates the attention to this matter by both the attorney general and the secretary of state,” said press secretary Gina Maiola. “She is in the process of thoroughly reviewing all factors surrounding moving Alabama’s runoff election.”
Merrill on Tuesday evening said his office presented a possible plan for the election to Ivey and he expects her to make an announcement on Wednesday. Merrill did not want to discuss details of his conversation with the governor.
As of Tuesday evening, Alabama had 39 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused but the coronavirus. Jefferson County had the most at 21 cases, with Shelby County at four, Tuscaloosa and Lee at three, Elmore and Montgomery at two, and Baldwin, Limestone, Madison, and St. Clair counties at one each.
On Tuesday, the Alabama Department of Public Health ordered that bars, restaurants and other food service establishments cease on-premises eating or drinking in Jefferson County as well as surrounding Tuscaloosa, Walker, Blount, St. Clair and Shelby counties.