Alabama’s Legacy of Racism Cited in Mail-In Voting Decision
(Bloomberg) -- Alabama’s long history of racial discrimination and the lopsided impact of the coronavirus on Black people justifies easing the state’s restrictions on mail-in voting for the upcoming election, a federal judge said.
U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon in Birmingham, Alabama, ruled Wednesday that voters who are at least 65 or who have underlying medical conditions that make them more susceptible to complications from Covid-19 must be exempted from the state’s identification and witness-signature requirements for absentee ballots during pandemic to comply with the Voting Rights Act.
Kallon, a Barack Obama appointee, said many of the state’s Black voters would meet those criteria after generations of unequal access to health care. Alabama’s legacy of discrimination “caused the racial disparities that exist today that make it harder and less likely for Black voters to be able to vote safely during the pandemic,” the judge wrote in his 197-page decision.
“The racial bias of Alabama’s former leaders and White citizens, while certainly ‘outdated,’ unfortunately still affects Black Alabamians’ health and socioeconomic status today,” he said.
The judge also blocked the state from preventing local election officials from setting up so-called curb-side voting procedures “that otherwise comply with state and federal election law.”
Kallon’s decision detailed the Southern state’s history of institutionalized racism against Black residents, starting with violent efforts to block freed slaves from voting after the Civil War to 1990s-era reforms “that disproportionately impacted Black voters in the name of rooting out voter fraud.”
“The court correctly found that that discriminatory history was also imbued in the witness requirement itself,” Liliana Zaragoza, a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, one of several civil rights groups behind the lawsuit, said in an interview. “And, as the court recognized, some state officials were motivated by racial bias in advocating for these absentee voting requirements.”
The state’s top election official, Republican Secretary of State John Merrill, appealed the decision and asked for a temporary stay of the rule changes, arguing in a court filing that they could complicate voting just as many people will be casting absentee ballots for the first time.
“Changing the rules now will only cause more confusion and uncertainty,” Merrill said in the filing.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.