By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
In response to a lawsuit by the United States Department of Justice, Alabama Secretary of State Jim Bennett has announced that he will notify the GOP and the Democratic Party in the state that qualifying dates for the 2014 election site must be moved up.
The issue behind the suit by the DOJ concerns the Military Overseas Voter Empowerment Act and the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voter Act which provide that all absentee ballots for overseas citizens and those in the armed forces must be sent out 45 days ahead of any special, primary, or general election in the United States. The DOJ contended that the dates would have led to late ballots down the road.
Qualifying for the Democratic Party was scheduled to be around February 14th. No word on the previous GOP qualifying date.
While the major parties set their own qualification dates, they are subject to a deadline set by the Secretary of State. This deadline had been April 4th, but sources say that SOS Jim Bennett is “negotiating” for a new deadline around February 7th to March 3rd.
Bennett said that he believes the change in date will not be significant, as many candidates have already announced their candidacies. Democrats will be forced to battle this appearance as they do not yet have a major contender for Governor, or nearly any other statewide office.
Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey (R) also entered the fold with a piece in her fourth quarter newsletter titled “Proposed Military Legislation in 2014 Session,” which reads, in part:
“In addition to bills drafted by the Commission, we plan to actively support the Overseas Military Voters bill, originated in the Secretary of State’s office. The bill will bring Alabama into compliance with the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act which safeguards overseas military families’ ability to effectively participate in elections. Alabama should do everything in its power to ensure that those who fight to preserve our rights are able to exercise those rights. The bill was proposed in the last Legislative Session and I am optimistic that with the Military Stability Commission’s support, it can pass this Session. ”
While there is no mention of the federal suit as the impetus for the legislation, Ivey does clearly acknowledge the State’s noncompliance with federal regulations in the area.
Ivey does note some actions already in action, but their proposition and partial implementation was also reactive.
The Alabama Political Reporter found that this is not the first time State officials have been asked to address the issue of overseas citizen and military voting in recent years. In 2012, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit regarding the same issue to assure compliance in the 2012 primary elections. As the chief election officer in the state, then SOS Beth Chapman accepted affected ballots until a later date. A commission on the subject was also created, chaired by Chapman, and it proposed legislation on the topic.