By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, February 15, 2017, the office of Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R) confirmed that the special election to fill the remainder of US Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) term in the Senate will be held in conjunction with the already scheduled 2018 elections. Sessions vacated his Senate seat to accept the role of US Attorney General.
Alabama Robert Bentley (R) made the formal announcement of the special election calendar today for the remainder of Sessions term which expires in January 2021.
Secretary of State Merrill’s office wrote, “The Alabama Code 1975, Title 36-9-8, gives the Governor exclusive authority to call and set the dates for the special election. The proclamation from the Governor has set the special primary election to be held Tuesday, June 5, 2018 with the start of qualifying being set officially by the major political parties. The last day for qualifying is February 9, 2018 at 5:00 p.m.” “If a run-off is necessary it will be held July 17, 2018. And, the primary will be conducted in conjunction with the November 6, 2018 General Election.”
Gov. Bentley said, ““After consultation and lengthy discussions with the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office, a large number of factors were considered in setting the date for this Special Election. Those factors included compliance with Federal and State statutes and cases, saving unnecessary expense on a costly separate statewide special election, and setting a time that is expected to increase voter participation.”
Governor Bentley concluded. “For these reasons, the 2018 General Election is the most reasonable time to hold the Special Election to fill the unexpired term of Senator Sessions.”
Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R), an attorney, disputes Bentley’s legal interpretation of the statute and has requested that Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) issue an opinion on the correct setting of the Special Election Date.
Zeigler said, “The election can be delayed to the next Regular Election only if the senate vacancy occurs within four months of the next election. The vacancy caused by former Sen. Jeff Sessions becoming US Attorney General was 21 months from the next General Election, November of 2018.”
State Representative Christopher John England (D-Tuscaloosa), and (like Zeigler) an actual attorney, has strongly disagreed with Gov. Bentley’s opinion. Rep. England wrote in a statement: “Well here it is. Governor Bentley, by his proclamation, has officially set the Special Election for the US Senate seat. It is attached below. He has decided, despite State law to the contrary, to use the 2018 Election calendar.”
England continued, “Two things. 1. Does anyone believe that 15 months from now is a reasonable interpretation of “forthwith”? Forthwith means immediate, without delay or hesitation and with no time intervening. Does 15 months sound like forthwith to you? It doesn’t to me.
2. Did the vacancy occur within more than 60 days but less than 4 months from the general election? If not, which it clearly did not in the case, then the 2018 general can not be used.
Once you answer those two questions it becomes crystal clear that this act violates State law. With this act, the Governor has made it clear that he is going to disregard State law and not allow you the opportunity to lawfully elect your US Senator in a timely fashion.”
Rep. England concluded, “At this point, I know what your next question is. What now? What can we do? Well, in my opinion, every single registered voter in the state of Alabama is a plaintiff. He is essentially disenfranchising you for the benefit of his appointee.”
Alabama Robert Bentley (R) has appointed Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R) to represent Alabama in the US Senate until the people get their chance to select their own Senator late next year. Luther Strange and Ron Crumpton (D) have both already announced their plans to run for the office.