“Covid ain’t going away in 2021.”

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After he sent an email to Clay Helms (Alabama’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Director of Elections) asking about about the use of absentee ballots for the upcoming municipal election, John Earl received a reply: “The Governor’s emergency does not extend that far into 2021.”

Earl replied, “Covid ain’t going away in 2021.”

Jason Morton wrote in the Tuscaloosa News:

It’s too early to tell right now, but some local voters hope the exceptions allowed for absentee voting in last month’s general election will extend to next year’s municipal vote.

The Alabama secretary of state’s office said the emergency order that allowed for absentee voting by anyone concerned by the coronavirus did not extend to March 2021.

The city of Tuscaloosa’s city council and board of education election is set for March 2, and some voters believe that’s too early for in-person voting.

“The pandemic isn’t going to go away in 2021,” said Tuscaloosa resident and voter John Earl. “Even if there is an effective vaccine, there should be another year in which people should take precautions.”

Earl, 73, said he reached out to the secretary of state’s office to ask about the absentee voting extension, and he provided The Tuscaloosa News with the response he received from Clay Helms, the deputy chief of staff and director of elections for Secretary of State John Merrill.

Earl, as well as municipal election official and City Clerk Carly Standridge, said they’re hopeful that the governor and secretary of state’s office allows for the same kind of consideration in March.

“I’m 73 and have, to a great extent, been self-isolating for fear of being infected with the coronavirus,” Earl said, noting that University of Alabama students were driven “in droves” by limos to his municipal polling location in 2013. “I don’t know if that situation could arise again, but I refused to vote at the site (in the general election) because of (his polling place) being on campus.”

Even though many people in Alabama are receiving vaccines, people should still be diligent in their personal behavior. That would include, of course, wearing masks and social distancing. But, it also should involve avoiding crowds, like the ones that exist at polling places.

The Montgomery Advertiser‘s Melissa Brown reported that “Alabama will receive just under 41,000 doses in the first round of Pfizer vaccine distribution.” She wrote that Dr. Scott Harris, Alabama Department of Public Health Health Officer, has said that “pandemic precautions must be maintained for the foreseeable future.”

Ryan Phillips wrote in The Patch:

The city of Tuscaloosa will soon request Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to extend her emergency executive order through March 2 in an effort to allow for the same expansive absentee voting opportunities offered during the November General Election.

Mayor Walt Maddox said his office had already been in contact with the governor’s office and Secretary of State John Merrill, saying without the emergency order, the Secretary of State doesn’t have the ability to allow the city to expand absentee voting for its March 2 municipal election.

Many people believe that any behavior mandated by a government in response to the pandemic somehow limits their “freedom.”

Smith College Professor of Government Martha Ackelsberg wrote an essay in The Conversation about “freedom.” She opined:

The laws and policies that governments enact set the framework for the exercise of our rights. So, inaction on the part of government does not necessarily empower citizens. It can, effectively, take away our power, leaving us less able to act to address our needs.

As Thomas Hobbes recognized almost four centuries ago, if everyone just does what they please, no one can trust anyone. We end up with chaos, uncertainty and a “war of all against all.”

Rights become worthless.

This paradox – of the need for government to enable the effective pursuit of individual aims – is particularly extreme in the situation of COVID-19 and its attendant economic crisis. Amid a rampaging pandemic, people have rights to do many things, but are they really free to exercise them?

People may know, for example, that if everyone wore a mask in the presence of others, maintained social distance and avoided large crowds, it would be relatively safe to be out in public. But that goal cannot be achieved by voluntary individual actions alone, since the benefits are achieved only when most or all of us participate.

The only way to assure that everyone will be wearing a mask — understood as an act of community and collective care, an action taken to protect others, as well as ourselves — is for the government to require mask-wearing because it is needed for the protection of life.

The ability to exercise the rights to work, to shop or to go to school depends upon having a relatively safe public space in which to operate. In turn, that requires all of us to attend to the rights and safety of others, as well as of ourselves.

Government is the means by which such attending — caring — is expressed and accomplished. It is only when people can count on others to be concerned for one another that they can truly be free to act, and exercise their rights, in the public arena.

The state of Alabama has a Safer-at-Home order that will, as reported by WAFF/48, last until January 21, 2021. It requires social distancing and mask wearing. The city of Tuscaloosa has based its own regulations on the state’s order. Although, as Tuscaloosa‘s Mayor Maddox has recently said, “Tuscaloosa is in a danger zone for community spread and hospitalizations,” he does not think that a “lockdown” will be effective. City offices are closed and activities, such as Holidays on the River, have been postponed. He believes that a shutdown would essentially be a “curfew” that would apply only to the city of Tuscaloosa. He said that the “exceptions embedded in federal and states laws” are punitive to small businesses.

But, as professor Ackelsberg has pointed out, the ability to go to school, to work and to shop depends on government providing a safe public space.

Obviously, in T-Town the right to vote without risking one’s health also should be guaranteed by government. And that will depend on whether the state’s emergency executive order will be extended.


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