Alabama GOP Gov. Kay Ivey announced Wednesday that she is postponing the state's March 31 runoff elections until July 14, citing concerns about the new coronavirus.
"The ability to hold free and fair elections is an inherent right as citizens of the United States and the great state of Alabama, but the safety and wellbeing of Alabama citizens is paramount," Ivey said in a statement.
The move postpones the Senate Republican primary runoff between former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville. There are also primary runoffs in the open seats in Alabama's 1st and 2nd Districts.
Alabama is the fifth state to postpone elections because of the pandemic but three states went ahead with primaries on Tuesday after a fourth made a last-minute decision to delay. The federal government has recommended gatherings not exceed 10 people in order to limit the spread of the virus.
Ivey's decision comes after Secretary of State John Merrill asked the state's attorney general for guidance on whether the election could be postponed. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall responded on Tuesday saying Ivey had the authority to postpone the runoff because she had declared a state of emergency. Marshall also noted that he agreed with Merrill that the runoff should be no later than July 14 so it does not interfere with the November elections, "unless the proclaimed emergency persists."
The move prolongs the primary to choose a challenger for Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat who is the most vulnerable senator in the country because of the state's Republican leanings. President Donald Trump won Alabama by 28 points in 2016 and Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Lean Republican.
Tuberville won Trump's endorsement last week, which could boost his chances in the primary against Sessions, who gave up the seat to join Trump’s administration. Trump has not hidden his disdain for Sessions, who recused himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Outside groups have also begun to take sides in the primary runoff. The anti-tax Club for Growth backed Tuberville, while the National Rifle Association endorsed Sessions.
But the impact of the coronavirus has cast the Alabama race and elections across the country into a state of uncertainty.
The candidates were set to submit their pre-primary fundraising reports to the Federal Election Commission on Thursday, but a spokesperson for the FEC said Wednesday that the reports will now be due 12 days before the July runoff.