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Court Decision Could Make Ballot Access Easier for Third Party Candidates

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

There are two major political parties and three significant minor political parties in this country. In theory, voters get to choose between the Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, Green and Constitution Parties, plus Independent candidates when they vote. Alabama doesn’t really work that way. The way districts are gerrymandered based on race and political party preferences, there are a lot of districts where one of the two major political parties is so dominant they aren’t seriously going to be challenged by the other party and third parties don’t really have a realistic path to ballot access. Nowhere is this more true than in special elections, where independent and third party candidates only have a few weeks to get the signatures that the state requires for ballot access for a district no one knew was going to be vacant. That could be changing

On September 30, 2016, US District Judge Myron Thompson ruled that Alabama’s demand that independent candidates, and minor party candidates get signatures from three percent of the registered voters in a district for ballot access (often in less than 60 days) was not reasonable.

Judge Thompson ruled in favor of the plaintiff in the case of Hall v Merrill. James Hall wanted to run for Congress in Alabama’s First Congressional District when Congressman Jo Bonner (R-Mobile) retired. The state said that Hall needed 5,938 First District voters to sign for him to be on the ballot. Hall attempted it and failed as he only had 56 days from the announcement to the deadline to get qualified (he would have to get over 100 signatures a day). He got 2,835, nowhere near the threshold.

Republican Candidate Bradley Byrne would eventually go on to win the race that Hall failed to even qualify for.

Similarly, Libertarian Candidate for House District 79, Gage Fenwick, attempted to get ballot access in the Special Election to replace disgraced former Representative Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn). The Secretary of State’s office required that Fenwick get 276 signatures of registered voters living in the Lee County district. Fenwick turned in over 300 signatures. The Secretary of State’s office spent a few days studying those ballots and disqualifying petitions and then ruled that Fenwick did not have the number of HD79 voters to make the ballot. Since Fenwick did not get ballot access and no Democrat qualified in the Republican dominated district, Secretary of State John Merrill (R) certified the winner of the Republican Primary, Joe Lovvorn, the winner and cancelled the Special General Election.

The Alabama Political Reporter asked Secretary of State’s office spokesman John Bennett what this means for special elections in Alabama.

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Bennett replied, “We have absolutely no idea how this will affect the people of the State of Alabama. We are looking to the courts and Judge Thompson for more specific direction regarding this issue.”

Bennett added, “We are hopeful that the court will soon issue more information regarding how this ruling will affect our people related to candidates for federal and state races. We will be able to provide better direction once this information has been received.”

Meanwhile, independent candidates in Alabama House District 34 have until October 18, to collect their petitions in order to qualify for the Shelby County race.


Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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