MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama is postponing its Republican primary runoff between former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions and a rival because of the coronavirus, the governor announced Wednesday.
The runoff between Sessions and former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville will now be held on July 14, Ivey said. The winner of the GOP runoff will face Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in November. The delay also affects primary runoffs for state and local races.
Five other states also have postponed their primaries because of the coronavirus pandemic: Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland and Ohio. In announcing the decision, Ivey noted the White House recommendation that people avoid gatherings of 10 or more people.
“We would be taking a human health risk just by having people stand in line waiting to vote," she said. “I'm also aware that our faithful poll workers are often retired and many among those have the highest risk."
Alabama has 46 confirmed case of coronavirus, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health, which has cautioned that the number of people carrying the virus is probably higher.
Sessions is seeking to reclaim the Senate seat he held for 20 years before becoming President Donald Trump’s first attorney general. He stepped down from that post when his relationship with Trump soured over his recusal from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Sessions has been forced into a tight primary runoff. Tuberville led in the initial round, taking 33% of the vote to Sessions' 31%.
In a statement, Sessions said the “safety and health of Alabamians must take precedence" and challenged Tuberville to debate now that the runoff is months, rather than weeks, away.
“We intend to maintain our vigorous campaign up until the last day, even as we are careful to do so in a manner that puts the health and safety of the public first," Sessions said.
Tuberville did not issue an immediate comment on the decision.
The governor, in urging people to maintain social distancing, practiced what she preached at a news conference Wednesday by standing apart from Merrill and Attorney General Steve Marshall. Reporters were directed to sit in chairs spaced about 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart.
“Avoid large gatherings, even family and friends, and if you can, please stay home," Ivey said.
Unlike some states, Alabama does not have early voting or “no excuse” absentee voting. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said voters who request an absentee ballot can check the “illness” box if they are concerned about contracting or spreading illness at the polls during the July 14 runoff.
Jones commended Ivey for the decision to delay the runoff, but said the effort to keep folks safe at home should include expanding voting access.
“It’s crucial that we expand access to the ballot box, enact early voting and expand opportunities to vote by mail in Alabama so that all eligible voters are able to participate in our democracy," Jones said.