By Tom Hals
(Reuters) – Two federal judges ruled on Wednesday in favor of voting by mail to protect against COVID-19, with one upholding a universal postal voting plan in Montana and the other blocking restrictions on absentee ballots in Alabama.
In Montana, U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen found that Governor Steve Bullock, a Democrat, was within his authority to allow the state’s counties to mail ballots to every voter to avoid spreading COVID-19 at polling places.
Bullock’s order had been challenged by President Donald Trump’s campaign and Republican election committees. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In Alabama, U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon issued an injunction that prevented the state from enforcing absentee ballot requirements that plaintiffs said put them at risk for COVID-19, such as seeking a notarized signature.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, a Republican, said he would appeal and added that voters challenging the requirements presented no evidence that the provisions prevented absentee voting in the state’s July primary.
Voting by mail has become a flashpoint in the Nov. 3 election, with Trump making unfounded complaints that the process leads to widespread election fraud, a point he reasserted in Tuesday’s debate with Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
“The evidence suggests, however, that this allegation, specifically in Montana, is a fiction,” wrote Christensen.
Both judges were nominated by former Democratic President Barack Obama.
Polls show voters in Montana are leaning for Trump, while the Republican president has a large lead in Alabama.
Both states also have U.S. Senate elections, including a tight race between Bullock and the Republican incumbent Steve Daines.
Republicans have challenged aspects of mail voting across the country. In the battleground states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, courts this month held that mailed ballots arriving within certain time periods after Election Day must still be counted.
(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Peter Cooney)