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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama's elections chief said Friday that he is telling local officials that they cannot require voters to wear masks at polling places during Tuesday's election. 

Several cities and counties have local mandates to wear masks in public places after Alabama saw a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases and the total number of people hospitalized with COVID-19.

"While it can be 'strongly recommended' that an individual wear a mask, it cannot be required," Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said he told county election officials. 

"In our state, we will continue to see that the right for every eligible Alabamian to vote is protected," Merrill said. 

Merrill said a June 30 notice from Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said it is clear that "state law does not allow for an individual's qualification to vote to be contingent upon the wearing of a mask or face covering, respecting social distancing, using gloves, or having a temperature in a normal range."

Jefferson County Probate Judge Sherri Coleman Friday told al.com previously that the county's health order requiring masks in public places would apply to polling places. Jefferson County Place Judge Jim Naftel told the paper Friday that "while we strongly encourage all voters to take appropriate precautions -- including wearing a covering over the nose and mouth and practicing physical distancing -- in order to protect our volunteer poll workers, watchers and others voters in the spirit of mutual respect and care, no voter will be required to wear a mask in order to vote."

Montgomery County Probate Judge J.C. Love told WSFA earlier this week that that they will have face masks available for voters, in addition to sanitizer and non-latex gloves. 

Several organizations have expressed concern about health risks at the polls. 

Alabama successfully appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a judge's preliminary injunction that would have loosened absentee ballot requirements for some voters during the pandemic and allowed curbside voting. 

Alabama voters on Tuesday will decide the Republican primary runoff between Jeff Sessions and Tommy Tuberville. The race will decide who will face Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in November. 

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