By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
If you were thinking about running for office this year, you have less than 35 days to make up your mind and get all of your qualifying papers turned in to the Alabama Secretary of State’s office. That’s because Alabama Secretary of State Jim Bennett (R) announced on Thursday that the close of qualifying for major party candidates in the 2014 election cycle will be February 7th, 2014 at 5:00 PM.
This is much earlier than usual. Candidates had previously been able to wait until April to qualify for the June 3rd Primary but the Secretary of State’s office is working to comply with federal laws concerning military and overseas voters. This change is part of ongoing litigation with the Department of Justice over military and overseas voting deadlines.
The original date for the end of qualifying for major party candidates would have been April 4, 2014. This change will not affect the June 3, 2014 qualifying deadlines for independent candidates and candidates of minor parties. This will apply to anybody running for office as a Republican or a Democrat.
The move settles a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Justice Department on behalf of U.S. servicemen stationed all over the world. With an April fourth qualification date, it would have been difficult to qualify the candidates, prepare ballots for every polling place in Alabama, then get those absentee ballots to our troops in remote corners of the world, them fill out their ballots, and then mail them back to our soldiers in time for those ballots to be counted on election night.
Secretary Bennett said, “Though we do not have yet an order from the court, we have agreed with the Department of Justice to move our deadlines up considerably to get ballots to the Absentee Election Managers in each county. This will allow ballots enough time to be sent to military and overseas voters well before the federal deadline, which is 45 days before the date of the election.”
The Secretary of State’s office has been in constant contact with both chairs of the Alabama Democratic and Republican parties to let them know that this change would occur. Secretary Bennett said he has urged the parties to open qualifying for candidates early in order to account for this change.
Sec. Bennett said, “We are doing everything in our power to make sure that our soldiers have their ballots in hand and can mail them back in time for their vote to be counted.”
The Secretary of State’s office had asked last year for the legislature to change the elections deadline schedule to reflect this end date for qualifying. That bill passed unanimously in the House, but timed out in the state Senate due to time constraints and last day filibustering by the Democrats, who were trying to block more controversial bills.
Secretary Bennett said, “We are bringing the bill again this year. I know that the legislative leadership has every confidence that this will be passed for future elections and that we will all do our part to ensure that every vote counts, including military and overseas voters.”
This change will also affect fund raising efforts. Candidates can not solicit or accept campaign contributions from the start of the legislative session (January 15th this year) until February 15th. That means that a prospective candidate for office only has the next 12 days of fundraising before they have to qualify on February 7th.
This change is likely beneficial for incumbents since challengers often have more difficulty raising money and often need more money for ads to establish name recognition and thus credibility with the voters. Potential candidates who don’t already have large campaign war chests and aren’t already actively pursuing campaign contributions will likely have to make the decision whether to run or not in early February without knowing the level of support that they have with contributors.
Secretary of State Jim Bennett was appointed by Governor Robert Bentley to finish the term of former Secretary of State Beth Chapman who resigned to take a position with ALFA.